Glancing Back: Government Investigates IAQ

November 21, 2001
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It appears that prior to late 1980, some federal agencies were well aware of indoor air pollution due to the tighter buildings being built. In fact, due to the growing awareness of indoor air quality (IAQ) problems at different government levels, two articles on this topic appeared in the Nov. 24, 1980 issue.

The first article was on the hearings held throughout California by Pleasanton’s Democratic Assemblyman Floyd Mori concerning buildings that were making occupants ill.

At the San Francisco hearings, Priscilla Ouchida testified that the new house she and her husband had built made them sick.

Employees of the San Francisco Department of Social Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who worked in newly constructed, tight buildings also testified how their respective buildings made them sick.

Mori said that the hearings would “result in 1981 legislation designed to change building energy-efficiency standards and make requirements safer for the users of buildings, including energy-efficient homes.”

He stated, “We have been told by a number of scientists that energy-efficient buildings can trap such materials inside the structure and, over a long period of human ingestion, prove harmful to the occupants of the building.

“The potential hazards include formaldehyde fumes from particle board shelving and subflooring and rugs, even radioactive radon from wallboard, and nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide from gas-fired appliances.”

Dr. Molly Coye of the U.S. Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and director of the Occupational Health Clinic at San Francisco testified that such chemicals “are not necessarily absent from older buildings. However, where there are windows and adequate ventilation, the air pollutant does not build up and stay trapped inside.”

The News also discussed a report the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) had submitted to Congress titled “Indoor Air Pollution: An Emerging Health Problem.”

The report stated, “Ironically, some measures intended to reduce energy use in buildings contribute to the buildup of indoor air pollution.

“Efforts to ‘button-up’ homes, schools, and office buildings to decrease their energy use permits less air to enter or escape. Pollu-tants produced indoors are trapped and their concentrations increase.

“Also, the federal government is using tax credits to encourage citizens to better insulate their homes. In attempting to resolve the nation’s energy shortage, the government may very well be advocating solutions which will adversely affect public health.”

The report noted that several federal agencies were looking into particular IAQ areas, as IAQ did not fall within the scope of responsibility of any one agency. For nonworkplace IAQ, the GAO did recommend that Congress put the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in authority.

Publication date: 11/26/2001

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