Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Thursday, March 28, 2024

Scientists advocate for policies regulating indoor air

New paper lays out a blueprint for mandating indoor air quality standards for public buildings

A roof top ventilation system supporting healthy indoor air quality
Rooftop ventilation supports healthy indoor air quality
- Pixabay

A group of international experts, including CU Boulder’s Jose-Luis Jimenez, CIRES Fellow and distinguished chemistry professor, and Shelly Miller, mechanical engineering professor, presented a blueprint for national indoor quality standards for public buildings, in a paper published today in Science.

“The science is very clear that improving indoor air quality would have enormous health benefits by reducing both disease transmission and indoor pollution,” Jimenez said. “But we think that will only happen with legally binding standards.” 

The authors addressed setting standards for three key indoor pollutants: carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and PM2.5, which are particles that can lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream. In addition to the three pollutants, the authors suggest a fourth standard surrounding ventilation rates.

Jimenez and Miller, along with lead author Lidia Morawska, a distinguished professor at Queensland University of Technology, are internationally known for leading the appeal to the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize the airborne transmission of COVID-19 early in the pandemic. The group has continued to study and publish papers about indoor air quality in public spaces.

“Indoor air in public buildings is a shared public good, just like outdoor air or drinking water,” said Miller. “To protect public goods from exploitation by polluters who may disregard human health impacts it is critical to provide guidelines and standards, which we have for outdoor air and drinking water.”

The authors recommend that indoor air quality standards be incorporated into the design of new buildings, or in the retrofitting of old structures— which will not be cheap. 

“While there is a cost in the short term, the social and economic benefits to public health, wellbeing, and productivity will likely far outweigh the investment in cost in achieving clean indoor air,” Morawska said.

The authors wrote that initial progress could be simple and cost-effective: COsensors are readily available, inexpensive, and robust and could be used as a proxy for the presence of exhaled pathogens such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and for the accumulation of indoor chemical pollutants.

If policymakers respond to the scientists’ call to action, Jimenez knows change won’t happen overnight. 

“What we are talking about is going to take a generation,” Jimenez said. “Just as it took many decades to provide clean water after the discovery that cholera was waterborne in the 1850s.”

This story was adapted from Queensland University of Technology’s press release.  


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