As a kid I delivered newspapers and worked on markets. It was what kids from docklands did but in my case in the smogs of London. A piece of legislation in 1956 was an attempt to do good and clean up our air. It was a start, but the work never finishes, and the law of unintended consequences seems always to apply. Political decisions send us rushing to buy diesel cars, only to find a decade later that we are poisoning every breath we take. The fashion and passion to clean the air outside was not matched with either an understanding or acknowledgement that the air we consume inside our homes where we spend 70% of our time, can be 10 times more toxic!
When I came across this ‘factoid’ I was moved to study more, analyse more and see what I could do. So, I did what entrepreneurs and, in this case, a social entrepreneur would do. Build a team, harness technology and create something. Thus ‘Airtopia’ was born. Dedicated to public health by helping folk in their homes get knowledge of and education about indoor air quality. This passion for Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), rather like that for Matilda’s Planet, needs all the skills acquired over five decades. Getting the idea right, the science right, the service shaped and then making as much noise as you can.
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was, like my father, from a small Welsh village. I met him briefly on a CND march and one of his notable observations was, “In all affairs it is a healthy thing now and then, to hang a question mark on the things you have taken for granted”, so it is with the air in our homes. The unintended consequences for many are headaches, bronchitis, asthma and – yes – cancer. Scary; you bet it is. The symptoms and the causes of poor IAQ are the treatable in most cases. Self-help through education and good home habits are the cure.
My goals were to highlight the need and help identify specifics. All homes have unique combinations, then get it on the agendas of as many homes as possible. What amazed me was that apart from a few academics little attention was being paid to the whole question. I spoke with the politicians and with parts of the medical sector but it seemed that the outcome for health was not acknowledged. Outdoor air quality became trendy, indoor air quality largely ignored.
So, for the last three years I do what I do by instinct and experience. Teams, technology, thunder and fight! The team and I have gathered support, focussed attention and furiously promoted the issue. We have sponsored campaigns and academic studies. We have supported political groups and promoted the issue with other influential groups. Low and behold you start to see a Mexican wave of interest, slow (and lacking the momentum I want to see), but there it is, nonetheless.
We all spend a fortune on our cars and the servicing thereof, but do we ever think about the air we breath at home? The assumption of purity may be one of the reasons we have the highest incidents of asthma in the Western world. So, our plan was simple: give people a chance to have home air tested, analysed and get post-event education for less than servicing a small car! We got there, real tests in the home taking about two hours with a full report and a place to go for self-help.
All over the country Airtopia analysts are being trained and put in place to deliver the service. All the experiences of mine and the team assembled have been applied to make it practical, reachable and professional. I have done such things over the last 40 years so to some degree its second nature. All I can hope is that the investment in time and a large sum of my savings can do a service to the millions of men, women and children who find themselves in thoracic misery. This can and will reduce the burden on the National Health Service, a service that was born just after me!