In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Air Quality: Indoor Health Effects

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Organizational Resources
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke
  • History
  • Mold
  • Epidemiology
  • Formaldehyde
  • Radon
  • Schools
  • Offices
  • Guidelines
  • Developing Countries

Public Health Air Quality: Indoor Health Effects
Ian Colbeck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0124


People often assume that air pollution is a modern phenomenon and that it has become worse in recent times. However, since the dawn of history, mankind has been burning biological and fossil fuels to produce heat. The walls of caves, inhabited millennia ago, are covered with layers of soot, and many of the lungs of mummified bodies from Paleolithic times have a black tone. Air pollution in large cities and industrial areas of western Europe has been increasing since the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century; however, it was not until the first half of the twentieth century that the adverse health effects of air pollution started attracting scientific attention. Two widely quoted air-pollution episodes, the Great London Smog of 1952 and the Meuse Valley (Belgium) episode of 1930, raised public awareness of the potential health effects of air pollution. While ambient air quality is now improving, indoor air quality has attracted public concern and increasing scientific interest due to the proliferation of sealed buildings, energy conservation programs, new building and consumer products, and the recognition of the health effects of radon and asbestos. Indoor air quality is now an important component of public health.

Introductory Works

The majority of books consider the impact of ambient air pollution on health. The mechanisms of effect are likely to be the same for the indoor environment as for outdoor ones. However, the pollutant mix is likely to be different. Early books were based on the results of short-term studies, and it is only relatively recently that an assessment of long-term exposure to air pollution has become available. Texts typically cover the chemistry and physics of air pollution in addition to epidemiological, mechanistic, and toxicological studies, such as Holgate, et al. 1999. Others, like Hester and Harrison 1998 and Ayres, et al. 2006, are part of a series on air pollution, and so for a full picture the related volumes should be read. For details of some of the latest research findings the website of the Health Effects Institute is an ideal starting position. Of recent books, Fuller 2018 is particularly relevant while Smedley 2020 is aimed at the non-specialist reader.

  • Ayres, Jon, Robert Maynard, and Roy Richards. 2006. Air pollution and health. London: Imperial College.

    DOI: 10.1142/9781860949234

    Volume 3 in the series Air Pollution Reviews. It considers issues associated with point, rather than diffuse, sources of air pollution. It deals with the distribution of pollutants within the lung and the uncertainties with regard to defining the dose. One of the few books to discuss the impact of nasal disease on lung exposure.

  • Fuller, Gary. 2018. The invisible killer: The rising global threat of air pollution—and how we can fight back. London: Melville House UK.

    This book starts in the seventeenth century when London was polluted from coal burning through the smog episodes in mid-20th-century London and into the twenty-first century when pollution, albeit from different sources, is still rife. He concludes with a consideration of possible actions to control air pollution.

  • Health Effects Institute.

    Provides details of current research projects on the impact of various air pollutants on human health.

  • Hester, Ronald E., and Roy M. Harrison, eds. 1998. Air pollution and health. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.

    Written with the general public in mind, this book reflects how the health-effects data can be drawn together to form the basis of air-quality standards. It also provides information on the health effects of airborne chemical carcinogens. Policy and research initiatives on indoor air quality are discussed.

  • Holgate, Stephen T., Jonathan M. Samet, Hillel S. Koren, and Robert L. Maynard. 1999. Air pollution and health. London: Academic Press.

    This book provides an overview of air-pollution science and its impact on human health. Coverage ranges from meteorology and atmospheric chemistry to pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. Cost implications, risk assessment, and air-quality standards are also considered. The book highlights the importance of the indoor environment as a source of pollutants.

  • Smedley, Tim. 2020. Clearing the air: The beginning and the end of air pollution. London: Bloomsbury Sigma.

    This volume considers air pollution in a number of cities, including Delhi, Beijing, London, and Paris. It describes how reducing air pollution is possible and the work already undertaken in many cities across the globe.

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