Indoor Air Pollution
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers indoor air pollution to be one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Indoor air pollution can be caused by a wide array of pollutants, including asbestos, various biological contaminants, carbon monoxide from improperly vented furnaces, household chemicals, lead, tobacco smoke, and radon. In addition to the presence of air pollutants, poor indoor air quality can also be caused by inadequate ventilation systems.
The effect of poor indoor air quality on children is of particular concern to the EPA. The EPA notes that 6.3 million American children suffer from asthma and that the biggest growth of asthma cases since 1980 has been in children under five. The prevalence of asthma in children between five and 14 years of age increased 74 percent among children between 1980 and 1994. It is estimated that 14 million school days are missed each year because of asthma. The number of asthma-related deaths in children nearly tripled between 1979 and 1986. Asthma is often linked to smoking in the home, and the EPA encourages homeowners to make their homes smoke-free to reduce the possibility that children will develop asthma or other respiratory diseases.
Pursuant to increased Congressional interest in indoor air quality in the 1980's, the EPA established an Indoor Environments Division, which has created a comprehensive program to identify sources of indoor air pollution and their health effects, to develop technologies and methods for reducing indoor air pollution, and to gather information about indoor air pollution for dissemination to researchers and the public. The EPA has conducted its own studies on the effects of environmental ("secondhand") tobacco smoke (ETS), classifying ETS as a Class A carcinogen in 1993, and has commissioned studies by the National Academy of Sciences on radon, allergens, and the relationship between indoor air quality and asthma. The EPA also prepares dozens of informational pamphlets on indoor air pollution in general, individual indoor air pollutants and their harmful effects, and how to reduce or eliminate indoor air pollutants.
Indoor air quality is also a serious health issue for people who work inside buildings. In addition to conventional indoor air pollution sources, industrial operations may release additional contaminants into indoor work environments. The EPA recently completed a study of 100 commercial office buildings in 37 cities from 25 states in order to establish baseline data on the indoor air quality in office buildings not previously available. Both the EPA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services, provide guidance for building owners and managers for ensuring the maintenance of good indoor air quality for their workers. The NIOSH also conducts investigations into possible indoor air quality health hazards under the authority of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The NIOSH investigations have found indoor air quality problems caused by ventilation system deficiencies, overcrowding, gases emanating from materials in offices and from mechanical equipment, tobacco smoke, microbiological contamination, and from outside air pollutants that were drawn into the building.
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