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Commercial and Residential Indoor Air Quality Index of Atmosphere issues

Issues

Variability and Change
    Ambient Air Quality
      Indoor Air Quality
      • Commercial and Residential Indoor Air Quality

        At a glance

        The issue

        Australians spend almost all of their time indoors. In 1997, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that less than 4% of time was spent outdoors.

        Many indoor areas have relatively poor ventilation, allowing the concentration of harmful substances to build up. Substances such as nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds, tobacco smoke, and asbestos fibres can all be harmful to health. Many common indoor air pollutants have also been shown to cause adverse health effects, even at low concentrations. Components such as temperature and humidity are also important to the feeling of 'comfort' while inside.

        The quality of the air inside buildings and vehicles is therefore very important and should be considered as part of the overall approach to improve community health through better air quality.

        This 'At a glance' section provides an overview of the issue of commercial and residential indoor air quality. More detailed information and references are available in the Commercial and Residential Indoor Air Quality Issue Report. Several indicators are included in the report.

        Recommendations on Indoor Air Quality and Total Exposure to Air Pollution are also presented.

        Favourable news

        • Tasmania banned smoking in many public places in 2001, especially where food is being served. This followed the move several years ago to ban smoking in all State Government offices, buildings and vehicles. The Smoke Free Areas Review - Report was released for public comment in 2003. The report made a number of recommendations including that the current legislation be extended to require all bar and gaming areas to be smoke free to better protect workers and customers in those areas from exposure to the harmful effects of environmental smoke. It also recommended that 50% of outdoor dining areas be smoke free. The report followed a review of the Smoke Free Areas provisions of the Public Health Act 1997.
           
        • The Australian Government's Living Cities-Air Toxics Program has increased the recognition of indoor air quality issues. A comprehensive overview of existing information on indoor air quality and air toxics has been published by the Department of Environment and Heritage: State of Knowledge Report: Air Toxics and Indoor Air Quality in Australia (Environment Australia 2001).
           
        • The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recommended indoor air standards and guidelines focused on non-industrial environments (NHMRC 1993).
           
        • The Asthma Foundation published a brochure (Breathe easy not wheezy: home design) outlining the indoor sources of pollution (in homes), which are known to exacerbate asthma. The Heart Foundation has also placed considerable emphasis on the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke in workplaces, homes and public places.
           
        • Two major studies on indoor air (non-industrial work environments) have been undertaken at University of Tasmania (Mesaros 1995; Mesaros 1999). This has contributed to some much needed information on the state of some Tasmanian indoor environments.
           
        • Steps to improve indoor air quality can be undertaken relatively simply as highlighted in the case study onResidence Built Using Low-VOC Emission Building Products.
           

        The use of pollution absorbing plants in a Hobart office building

        Unfavourable news

        • There is an overall paucity of Tasmanian and Australian information and research into indoor air quality, particularly for residential buildings. Many indoor air pollutants have not been fully investigated and the information base for pollution control measures is limited.
           
        • From the information available, Tasmanian non-industrial workplaces indicate very high concentrations of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), and have some of the highest levels of sick building syndrome, especially when compared to other Australian studies. Sick building syndrome is characterised by an increased prevalence of non-specific symptoms (e.g. irritation of the eyes, nose and lower airways). Studies around Australia have indicated an extremely high level of occupant dissatisfaction with the commercial indoor work environment.
           
        • There is no single regulatory body addressing indoor air quality issues, particularly in the non-industrial and residential environments.
           
        • In general, Tasmania has undertaken no management activities in regard to indoor air quality. Generally, government departments and bodies only examine indoor environments (industrial/non-industrial) when a problem is drawn to their attention or when a management activity is required by legislation.
           
        • Compliance with standards and guidelines assist in controlling indoor air pollution, but they are not a guarantee of a problem-free building. Australian studies have shown that in some cases indoor pollution concentrations far exceed relevant standards and guidelines. Also, the standards and guidelines are not always applicable to non-industrial workplace or residential dwellings.
           
        • There is a lack of systematic building investigations in Tasmania and Australia.
           
        • Sensitive groups in the population, such as children, are the most affected by all the major indoor air pollutants.
           

        Acoustic tiles affected by a combination of inadequate ventilation, water damage and fungal growth.

        Uncertain news

        • There is an overall paucity of Tasmanian and Australian literature and research into indoor air quality, resulting in uncertainties in many areas, including the:
           
          • extent to which commercial buildings adhere to relevant standards for mechanical ventilation rates;
             
          • air infiltration rates of residential buildings;
             
          • proportion of the Tasmanian population that have a predisposition to react to indoor air allergens;
             
          • proportion of adult smokers with children;
             
          • proportion of the Tasmanian population at risk of environmental tobacco smoke exposure;
             
          • extent of asbestos products removed from workplaces;
             
          • number of unflued gas heaters in residences and schools;
             
          • extent to which people living in mobile buildings are exposed to elevated concentrations of formaldehyde from the building materials;
             
          • proportion of residences with high house dust mite allergen;
             
          • number of buildings that comply with the relevant Legionella standards and guidelines;
             
          • extent to which people are exposed to elevated concentrations of TVOCs in commercial and residential buildings;
             
          • extent to which people are exposed to elevated concentrations of pollutants associated with insulated/uninsulated buildings;
             
          • exposure to vehicle emissions within cars (time spent in city traffic); and
             
          • extent to which selected Hobart office buildings surveyed in 1999 (Mesaros 1999) continue to adhere to the relevant thermal comfort standards, and whether the results of the original survey were indicative of all commercial buildings.
             

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