First WHO indoor air quality guidelines on indoor chemicals now released

Copenhagen, 15 December 2010

A new volume of the global guidelines for indoor air quality is released today. WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: selected pollutants results from the contribution of over 60 international scientists to a project coordinated by WHO Regional Office for Europe and presents for the first time evidence and guidance to protect health globally from the impact of indoor chemicals. The guidelines recommend targets for indoor air quality at which the health risks are significantly reduced and provide a scientific basis for legally enforceable standards in all regions of the world.

Hazardous substances emitted from buildings, construction materials and indoor equipment or due to human activities such as fuel combustion for cooking or heating, lead to a broad range of health problems and may even be fatal. At least 400 deaths are caused annually by indoor carbon monoxide poisoning in the WHO European Region, and up to 14% of lung cancers are attributable to residential radon exposure. Life-long exposure to benzene concentrations as observed in European houses is associated with up to 10 cases of leukaemia per 100 000 people.

“Understanding the hazards of these pollutants is a first step to identify the actions necessary to reduce their adverse impacts on health. If these guidelines are sensibly applied as part of policy development, indoor exposure to air pollutants and related health effects should substantially decline,” says Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “WHO will continue encouraging the relevant policy developments and the intersectoral collaboration necessary for ensuring access to healthy indoor air for everyone.”

The guidelines are targeted at public health professionals involved in preventing the health risks of environmental exposures, as well as at specialists and authorities involved in the design and use of buildings, indoor materials and products. This volume is the second in a series, following the 2009 book on dampness and mould, and anticipates further work to address household fuel combustion.
The nine substances considered in this review are common indoor air pollutants globally and are just a few of the many chemicals encountered in indoor spaces. They were selected for this review based on the existence of their indoor sources, the availability of evidence on their health effects, and their common presence in concentrations of health concern. Based on the accumulated science, experts formulated health risk evaluations and agreed on the guidelines for each of the pollutants (see fact sheet).

Problems of indoor air quality are important health risk factors in low-, middle- and high-income countries. Population groups in residences, day-care centres and retirement homes are particularly vulnerable to indoor air pollution due to their health status or age. The guidelines are intended to address various levels of economic development, cover all relevant population groups, and allow feasible approaches to reducing health risks from exposure to the selected pollutants in various regions of the world.

“Public health awareness of indoor air pollution has lagged behind that of outdoor air pollution. The new guidelines now provide clear reference criteria to reduce the health risks from indoor exposure to air pollutants in all regions of the world and at all levels of economic development,” concludes Dr Michal Krzyzanowski, leader of the WHO project to draw up the guidelines.

For questions about the data contained in the guidelines, please contact:

Dr Michal Krzyzanowski
Programme Manager, Living and Working Environments
Bonn Office – WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +49 228 815 0405

For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer, Communication
Rome Office – WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39 06 4877 543. Mobile: +393480192305