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Indoor Air Quality

1. Introduction – assessing health risks of indoor air pollution

    Several household cleaning products emit chemicals
    Several household cleaning products emit chemicals.

    Source: Sanja Gjenero

    Air pollution can cause health problems such as respiratory diseases (e.g. asthma), allergies, and possibly lung cancer. It is one of the major environmental health concerns for Europe and the goal of the EU air policy is to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable risks to human health.

    Much progress has been made in tackling outdoor air pollutants. Indeed, outdoor air quality is monitored across Europe and limit values have been adopted for the concentration of the most common pollutants in outdoor air. However, when dealing with air pollution it is important to consider both outdoor and indoor air.

    Some indoor air pollutants come from the outside air, but most are released inside the home, for example through the use of cleaning products, air fresheners, pesticides and fuel for cooking and heating. Emissions from construction materials and furniture are another common source of indoor air pollutants. Micro-organisms, such as fungi that release spores, may also contaminate indoor air and induce allergies and asthma.

    Global trends such as climate change and soaring energy costs can impact indoor air quality. For example, extreme weather conditions may increase the need for additional thermal insulation and decreased ventilation, which may lead to too high or too low indoor temperatures or to humidity problems.

    Evaluating and managing the health risks of indoor air pollution in Europe is complex. A wide variety of pollutants, exposure levels and possible health effects must be considered, along with differences in cultural habits, lifestyles and climate. Also, some people – such as children, pregnant women and the elderly – may be more vulnerable than others.

    This opinion aims to provide a scientific basis for assessing the risks to human health linked to indoor air quality and for policy making. It considers how these risks are currently evaluated and how they should be assessed in the future, including in the case of simultaneous exposure to multiple pollutants. It covers indoor environments where the general public may be exposed to pollutants (such as homes, offices, schools, and closed vehicles), with a particular focus on vulnerable groups of population such as children, pregnant women and elderly people. It does not address how to reduce or prevent adverse health effects, nor does it cover industrial exposure or active smoking. More...

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