In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indoor Air Quality Guidelines

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Public Health Indoor Air Quality Guidelines
Hernando Perez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0083


It is well established that various air pollutants are associated with adverse health in exposed populations and individuals. Approaches to control this pollution and resulting human exposure have taken many forms, including governmental regulation, consensus guidelines, public health interventions, and public education campaigns. Issues of air quality are often categorized into either ambient (outdoor) or indoor issues. This categorization is utilized not only in the quantification and health hazard assessment of pollutants, but also in the establishment of National Ambient Air Quality and Emission Standards to limit human exposure, with most industrialized nations also having emission limits on significant sources, such as motor vehicles and industrial facilities. Thus, ambient air pollution is, in general, more extensively regulated than indoor air pollution. In contrast, with the exception of occupational environments, relatively few enforceable regulations are in place that limit concentrations of air pollutants in the indoor environment. This discrepancy in regulatory action is a result of a number of factors, including the larger scale of ambient pollution sources, the larger proportion of the population exposed to pollution from any individual ambient source, and the dispersed nature and large variability of indoor pollutants. The general focus on ambient air pollution prior to addressing any indoor air quality issues is of particular concern given the documented levels of indoor air pollution and associated health effects related to the indoor burning of biomass for heating and cooking. There are logistical complexities in effectively regulating indoor air pollutants in most nonoccupational environments limiting the development of enforceable contaminant limits. These include the number of indoor environments in which regulation and enforcement would be needed, the large variability in the number and concentrations of indoor contaminants, and the privacy issues associated with regulating contaminants in private (e.g., residential) environments where pollutants may result from individual lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking and fuels used for cooking). While direct concentration limits on airborne contaminants are not in place in most non-occupational indoor environments, other regulatory approaches do exist in the developed world. These include restrictions on the sale of specific chemical substances, such as pesticides, as well as labeling requirements on these chemicals. The development of enforceable air quality regulations in indoor environments faces many challenges. Many government agencies, professional organizations, and other agencies have developed guidelines, recommendations, and interventions to limit human exposure to indoor air pollutants in an attempt to fill this regulatory void.

General Overviews

The development of enforceable regulations to establish acceptable concentration limits for indoor air pollutants in nonoccupational environments has historically been a challenging undertaking. Reviews of the topic, such as Reitze and Carof 1998, describe issues contributing to this challenge from a legal perspective in the United States. Summaries of relevant policy issues and potential methods to address the limitations of current indoor environmental quality regulatory issues in the United States are discussed in Wu, et al. 2007 and Jacobs and Sobolewski 2007. Indoor environmental quality policy issues in the European Union are discussed in Adan, et al. 2007. Bai, et al. 2003 summarizes information on the development of indoor air quality standards in China. Olesen 2004 presents an overview of the most relevant international nongovernmental indoor air quality standards in place today. Paustenbach, et al. 2011 summarizes the setting of exposure limits for contaminants in occupational environments.

  • Adan, O. C., J. Ng-A-Tham, W. Wojtek, et al. 2007. In search of a common European approach to a healthy indoor environment. Environmental Health Perspectives 115.6 (January): 983–988.

    DOI: 10.1289/ehp.8991

    A summary of the impediments to the development of a single indoor environmental quality policy for all European Union member states. Justifications of the need for such a policy are presented as are policy recommendations based on international regulatory successes.

  • Bai, Z., Z. Wang, T. Zhu, and J. Zhang. 2003. Developing indoor air quality related standards in China. Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 2.1: 55–60.

    DOI: 10.3130/jaabe.2.55

    Presents a concise historical review of the development of the regulatory process for indoor air quality in China. Progression of the governmental approach is summarized and a summary of enacted standards is presented.

  • Jacobs, D. E., T. Kelly, and J. Sobolewski. 2007. Linking public health, housing, and indoor environmental policy: Successes and challenges at local and federal agencies in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives 115.6 (January): 976–982.

    DOI: 10.1289/ehp.8990

    A description of needs and impediments to policy implementation with respect to improving indoor environmental quality in residential environments. Case studies describing policy successes are presented as are research recommendations and the need for a holistic approach to addressing public health issues related to poor indoor air quality in homes.

  • Olesen, B. W. 2004. International standards for the indoor environment. Indoor Air 14 (suppl. 7) (August): 18–26.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004.00268.x

    A summary of indoor air quality standards for thermal comfort and ventilation issued by the three most prominent standard setting organizations: International Organization for Standardization (ISO), American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and European Committee for Standardization (CEN). Limitations of these standards are summarized.

  • Paustenbach, D. J., D. M. Cowan, and J. Sahmel. 2011. The history and biological basis of occupational exposure limits for chemical agents. In Patty’s industrial hygiene. Vol. 2, Evaluation and control. 6th ed. Edited by V. E. Rose and B. Cohrssen, 865–955. New York: Wiley.

    A comprehensive historical summary of the occupational exposure limit concept. Technical concepts regarding the development of these limits for various types of agents are presented. International trends in limit setting are given as are process limitations and potential future trends.

  • Reitze, A., and S. Carof. 1998. The legal control of indoor air pollution. Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 25. 2 (Winter): 247–345.

    A comprehensive review of indoor air quality policy in the United States at the time of publication. The role of various governmental agencies in regulating indoor air quality and the specific pollutants regulated are discussed in detail. Variability in the extent of regulation between types of indoor environments is discussed. The article was published in the late 1990s; however, the concepts and information presented remain relevant.

  • Wu, F., D. Jacobs, C. Mitchell, D. Miller, and M. H. Karol. 2007. Improving indoor environmental quality for public health: Impediments and policy recommendations. Environmental Health Perspectives (January).

    DOI: 10.1289/ehp.8986

    The current state of indoor air quality regulation in the United States and the impediments to addressing policy issues are presented. Policy recommendations with a focus on economic incentives are given. Alternatives to regulatory control are also presented.

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