Indoor Air Pollution:

An Emerging Health Problem

CED-80-111: Published: Sep 24, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1980.

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Hugh J. Wessinger
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While Government and industry have concentrated on cleaning up the Nation's outdoor air, they have paid little attention to the quality of indoor air in the nonworkplace. Harmful pollutants have been found in various indoor environments in greater concentrations than the surrounding outdoor air. In some cases, indoor pollution exceeds the national standards set for exposure outdoors. Harmful pollutants which have been found in indoor air environments include: higher than average levels of radioactive radon; unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide; formaldehyde from foam insulation; nitrogen dioxide from poorly ventilated gas stoves; and smoking, a major indoor source of respirable particles. Some measures intended to reduce energy use in buildings contribute to the buildup of indoor air pollution. One material qualifying for a Federal tax credit for home insulation is a source of potentially harmful indoor air pollution.

While Federal officials agree that indoor air pollution poses a potentially serious health problem, they have been reluctant to study it, because they lack a clear responsibility for doing so. The lack of clear responsibility and authority has caused a duplication of some efforts. Agencies also find themselves assuming adversarial roles when assessing Federal actions on indoor air quality. Environmentalists and those concerned with energy conservation disagree about programs. Some European countries have recognized the significance of the indoor air quality standards for certain pollutants, and have taken measures to control the problem. There are low-cost ways to minimize indoor air pollution, including proper ventilation and use of ventilating equipment and filtering devices. A massive new Federal program is not necessary now, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could develop a comprehensive, coordinated program using existing resources in both the public and private sectors.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Clean Air Act to provide EPA with the authority and responsibility for the quality of air in the nonworkplace.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of EPA should establish a task force which will: (1) identify research activities of other Federal agencies and private institutions relating to indoor air pollution; (2) request and compile available data on indoor air pollution and use this data to inform the public of the problem and available actions; and (3) provide advice to the Administrator on what EPA research and development efforts are needed to deal with the indoor air pollution problem.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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