Indoor Air Quality:

Federal and State Actions to Address the Indoor Air Quality Problems of Selected Buildings

RCED-98-149R: Published: May 1, 1998. Publicly Released: May 27, 1998.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the federal and state actions that have been taken to address indoor air quality concerns that have been raised by occupants of certain school, state, and federal buildings in Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Maryland, focusing on: (1) the extent to which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies have been involved in investigating, evaluating, and mitigating the indoor air problems of 15 specified buildings in Vermont and, if there has been little or no direct federal involvement, identify the reasons and other forms of federal assistance, if any, that have been provided; (2) the role of the nonfederal organizations that have acted to address the indoor air quality problems of the buildings; (3) the indoor quality problems in these buildings and the steps that have been taken or that are needed to deal with them; and (4) the actions taken by federal agencies to address air quality problems in EPA's headquarters buildings at Waterside Mall in the DIstrict, and in the Fallon Federal Office Building in Baltimore, Maryland.

GAO noted that: (1) federal agencies generally did not investigate, evaluate, or mitigate indoor air quality problems in the 15 Vermont buildings included in GAO's review; (2) while a number of federal agencies, including EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health share a role in addressing the problem of indoor air pollution and promoting good indoor air quality, the federal role currently is largely confined to one of research and information dissemination; (3) although OSHA has extensive enforcement authority and is working on a proposed indoor air quality standard, its policy is to handle most indoor air quality complaints informally by letter; (4) the Vermont Department of Labor and Industry, under a state plan approved by the OSHA, is responsible for most workplace enforcement in the state, including coverage of state and local government workplaces; (5) the agency has conducted inspections in response to indoor air quality complaints in 8 of the 15 buildings included in GAO's review and has been active on a committee to improve the indoor air quality in state buildings; (6) in the absence of federal regulatory authority and the resources for addressing indoor air quality in nonfederal buildings, the investigation, the evaluation, and the remediation of air quality problems are essentially state, local, or private responsibilities; (7) in Vermont, state government agencies, local school administrations, and private consultants have been most directly involved in addressing the indoor air quality problems of the Vermont public schools and government office buildings that were included in GAO's review; (8) the most frequently noted complaints of occupants of the buildings included in GAO's review involved breathing difficulties, dizziness, headaches, and eye and throat irritation; (9) although serious illnesses generally have not resulted from problems at the buildings, in several cases, workers or students have required treatment at hospitals, have been unable to return to work or school and have continued to experience health problems, not all of which is conclusively attributed to the building's air quality; and (10) at the two federal office buildings included in GAO's review, federal agencies have taken a number of actions to address indoor air quality problems.

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