As members of a society that spends approximately 90% of our time indoors, we are increasingly aware of the environment we inhabit.
Whether at home, in the office, or at school, the air we breathe significantly impacts our health and well-being. This is the reality we face today, and it has become even more pronounced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has underscored the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ).
For us, the issue of IAQ is not just a matter of comfort—it’s a matter of public health. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to a range of health issues, from respiratory problems and allergies to cognitive impairment. As parents, employees, and citizens, we are concerned about the air our children breathe in schools, the air we breathe in our workplaces, and the air in our homes.
But why does this matter now? The answer lies in the growing body of evidence pointing to the significant health impacts of poor IAQ, coupled with the realization that many indoor environments are not as safe as we once believed.
The orange skies seen in New York due to wildfire smoke, the mold issues in Alabama schools, and the concerns raised about air quality in tightly sealed, energy-efficient buildings point to a pressing need to address IAQ.
Looking to the future, the importance of IAQ will only increase.
As we continue to build and retrofit spaces to be more energy-efficient, we must also ensure they are healthy. As we face the ongoing challenges of climate change and public health crises, indoor air quality will play a crucial role in our resilience.
The decisions we make now about IAQ policy and practice will shape our health and the health of generations to come.
The Push for IAQ Standardization in New York
In New York, Council Member Keith Powers has introduced new bills to standardize indoor air quality across the city.
The legislation covering public schools, commercial buildings, residential buildings, and municipal buildings was introduced in response to the orange skies and poor air quality caused by drifting wildfire smoke from Canada.
Powers noted the importance of indoor air quality, as we spend about 90% of our time indoors, and the need for better filtration and monitoring of indoor air. Borough President Mark Levine echoed these sentiments, highlighting the need for better indoor circulation and the potential health benefits of improved indoor air quality.
Parent Advocacy in Alabama
In Alabama, parents Michael and Tara Bailey have advocated for improved indoor air quality in schools.
The Baileys, who founded the Indoor Air Care Advocates organization, are pushing for more transparency and guarantees from school administrators regarding ventilation systems and air quality standards.
They argue that current air quality standards are merely suggestions, not mandates and that this lack of enforcement is a significant issue.
Technological Solutions and Evolving Standards
As awareness of indoor air quality issues grows, so does the technology designed to address them.
Companies like Peters Heating and Air Conditioning are using new equipment to remove indoor pollutants, including air scrubbers that claim to kill bacteria, viruses, and mold.
These devices are used in residential homes, schools, and commercial buildings. They are seen as a potential solution to the challenges posed by tightly sealed, energy-efficient buildings that may lack adequate ventilation.
Smart IAQ Policy Changes
Mandating Regular IAQ Assessments: Regular assessments of indoor air quality in all public buildings, including schools, offices, and residential buildings, could help identify and address issues proactively. Certified professionals should conduct these assessments, including testing for mold, radon, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Implementing IAQ Standards: Currently, many IAQ standards are recommendations rather than requirements. Making these standards mandatory and enforcing compliance could significantly improve indoor air quality. These standards could cover ventilation, humidity control, pollutant control, and maintenance of HVAC systems.
Promoting Green Building Practices: Encouraging materials and practices that improve indoor air quality in new construction and renovations could have a long-term positive impact. This could include the use of low-VOC materials, the installation of energy-efficient ventilation systems, and the incorporation of natural ventilation and daylighting.
Educating the Public: Public awareness campaigns can help individuals understand the importance of indoor air quality and the steps they can take to improve it, such as regular maintenance of HVAC systems, the use of air purifiers, and the avoidance of products that release harmful pollutants.
Effects of IAQ Policy Changes
Some might argue that these policy changes could lead to increased costs for businesses and homeowners due to the need for regular assessments, upgrades to HVAC systems, and the use of more expensive low-VOC materials.
They might also argue that the impact of indoor air quality on health is not significant enough to warrant such regulations, especially in the context of other pressing public health issues.
While it’s true that implementing these policies could lead to some upfront costs, it’s important to consider the long-term benefits.
Poor indoor air quality has been linked to a range of health issues, including respiratory problems, allergies, and even cognitive impairment. Improving indoor air quality could reduce healthcare costs and improve productivity due to reduced illness.
Moreover, many proposed changes could lead to cost savings over time. For example, energy-efficient ventilation systems can reduce energy costs, and regular maintenance can prevent costly repairs or replacements.
Finally, it’s important to remember that indoor air quality is a matter of environmental justice.
Low-income communities and communities of color are often more likely to suffer from poor indoor air quality due to substandard housing and proximity to pollution sources. By implementing and enforcing IAQ standards, we can help ensure everyone has access to clean, healthy indoor air.
Take Action for Healthier Indoor Air
As we’ve seen, there’s a growing movement to address indoor air quality issues, from policy changes to technological advancements. However, this is just the beginning.
We all have a role to play in advocating for better indoor air quality in our homes, schools, and workplaces.
If you’re a parent, consider joining or starting a local advocacy group to push for improved IAQ in your child’s school.
If you’re a business owner or manager, look into the latest air cleaning technologies and consider implementing them in your workspace.
And no matter who you are, you can reach out to your local representatives to express your support for stronger IAQ standards and regulations.
Remember, change starts with awareness. The more we learn about indoor air quality and its impacts, the better equipped we are to make informed decisions and advocate for healthier indoor environments.
We encourage you to continue educating yourself and others about this important issue.