Indoor Air Quality: Part 1 - What It Is

Ann Pike-Paris


Pediatr Nurs. 2004;30(5) 

In This Article

IAQ - A Definition and Brief History

Indoor air is that which we breathe in our 'built' environment, e.g., homes, hospitals, businesses. In the case of children, this might be their home, daycare center, school, sports arena, or recreational building. There is widespread agreement that children today spend up to 90% of their time indoors, therefore making this exposure a substantial one (Children's Environmental Health Network [CEHN], 1999; American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP], 2003).

To better understand why and how IAQ has become a health concern, it is useful to know a bit of history as it pertains to the broader issue of air quality. An abbreviated recounting of federal legislation that affects air quality and pollution, as taken from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) web site, is found in Table 1 . Although only the radon legislation directly addresses indoor air, other legislation provide the historical framework of awareness of air pollution in general. Key to remember is that many of the outdoor air contaminants are found in our indoor environment.

Air quality has been an acknowledged concern for the last 30 years. IAQ awareness seems to have begun after the energy crisis of 1970's. Since that time, we have been constructing buildings more tightly to conserve heat and air conditioning. Fresh air penetration is minimized to control costs. In many cases, indoor humidity increases greatly as a result. Synthetic materials, which emit gases, are commonplace now in construction of buildings and furnishings. Carpeting has been used extensively in homes and schools and acts as a reservoir for pollutants and emits gases. Wood burning stoves, which became a mainstay in certain parts of the country to reduce heating costs, increases indoor combustion pollutants as well as particulates. With structures becoming tighter and more energy efficient, IAQ has declined so significantly that the EPA's Science Advisory Board has ranked indoor air pollution as one of the top five risks to public health in the United States (Wigle, 2003).

Currently, there are no federal standards for IAQ in homes or schools, although monitoring and measuring methods exist (EPA, 2003). The 2003 EPA Draft Report on the Environment highlights the difficulty of assessing IAQ, largely owing to the overwhelming number of buildings, homes, and schools in the U.S., the lack of research, and the difficulty that would exist to generalize from such studies. To date, only two pollutants have been studied sufficiently to produce credible data: radon and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). With an acknowledged problem of indoor air pollution, how are children put at risk?


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