Indoor air: building up speed

The PNSE (National Health & Environment Plan), and then the many subjects discussed in France’s recent “Grenelle de l’Environnement” Debates (Multi-stakeholders’ Consultation Meeting on the Environment), have shown that the subject of indoor air can no longer be confined to debates between experts, but that it is a genuine society problem recognized as such by the Public Authorities and by citizens. It is a subject that emerged about 10 years ago, when it was thought that internal pollution in buildings was solely caused by transfers of outdoor air. Since then, work has shown that pollutants present in indoor air are typical of this environment. Many studies have been carried out by the different professions involved in the problem, including epidemiologists, building engineers, chemists, toxicologists, etc. All have concluded that there are short-term risks (intoxications) and long-term risks (cancers). There are many pollutants present and they must all be taken into account together. This is the reason why a protocol for the assessment of construction and decoration products developed recently by the AFSSET takes account of several VOCs and aldehydes.

An environmental health and sanitary baseline is now created with operational research carried out in the different living areas, particularly by the OQAI, CSTB and the INERIS to characterize exposure of persons. Work on chemical substances through the European Reach project enables a more transparent approach towards risks related to chemical substances. Furthermore, the AFSSET is coordinating competent organizations to deal with sanitary and environmental questions, and is also setting itself some specific tasks, for example to define guide values for indoor air quality. The Government has recently mandated AASQAs (Approved Associations for Monitoring Outdoor Air Quality) to perform local actions to measure the quality of indoor air, the OQAI remaining the organization that guarantees protocols and centralizes collected data.

A need for information
The expectations of local communities and individuals tend to become more urgent as time goes on. The current objective is to satisfy these expectations. The state of knowledge is such that solutions can be suggested. This includes labeling of emissions of volatile pollutants from construction and decoration products requested by the “Grenelle de l’Environnement” debates, which should quickly become compulsory. Another measure that will also become compulsory soon and that was announced during this conference by Laurent Michel from the Ministry of the Ecology, "the ban on the use of category 1 and 2 carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances in construction and decoration products, and the fast implementation of surveillance and information measures on indoor air quality in buildings open to large numbers and/or vulnerable members of the public." In a visit to CSTB, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the Secretary of State for Ecology, also asked that experts should work on the production of simple and inexpensive air quality indexes that everyone can use, and that an “indoor air quality” kit should be made available also including a practical guide and recommendations.

The driving force initiated by the Government on the subject of indoor air quality through the PNSE and the Grenelle de l’Environnement Debates is continuing with the PNSE 2 now under preparation. The next step is to make better use of environmental monitoring data by finding links between pathologies and the condition of the environment, and research on environmental health theme to be boosted.

The Indoor Air Quality Observatory has a role to play in the search for factors controlling pollution in homes, a necessary step before polluting emissions can be reduced, thereby reducing exposure of persons. Without forgetting the prevention and explanatory theme - information for professionals and the general public, so that this question should become a controlled and acquired reflex.

The OQAI is continuing its work

After a national study on indoor air quality in French homes, the OQAI (Indoor Air Quality Observatory) is continuing its work in 2007 and 2008 with one program to increase awareness of indoor pollution in living areas occupied by children (nurseries, primary and secondary schools, high schools, swimming pools, skating rinks, etc.), and another program for offices. At the same time, the OQAI is continuing its research work on factors that control indoor air quality, to characterize sources of pollution in homes. The OQAI will complete its first work by producing an indoor air quality index in early 2008, with the long-term objective of obtaining a tool capable of qualifying air quality in homes. All of this work will be completed by communication, information and training actions.

Towards indoor air quality indexes

Indoor air quality indexes are useful if they satisfy a specific demand by users, and if they are easy to use and are understood. There can be several indexes depending on the type of living space and users. This is why the OQAI started by producing an inventory of a large number of indexes existing in France and in other countries, before carrying out a study based on two approaches (psycho-social and psycho-environmental). The objective is to know the expectations and needs of potential users of an indoor air quality index, including building managers (tertiary buildings, schools, homes), the Public Authorities and inhabitants. Indexes should satisfy two types of challenges, firstly they should increase awareness about indoor air quality so as to modify behavior, and secondly prevent risks in order to improve the existing housing stock. The enquiry showed how important these stakes were and how essential it was to take them into account in the definition of the indexes. Publication of these indexes will also be accompanied by a feeling of danger directly associated with health, social, psychological, economic and legal risks, that will have to be accompanied by awareness and information tools so that these indexes are used correctly. On this basis, the OQAI will produce an “experts’ opinion” index for air quality in homes that will be presented at the beginning of 2008.