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Human Exposure to Indoor Air Pollution: New Research reveals Higher Risks than previously thought

12.09.2003


Presentation of the latest studies on the impact of indoor air pollution on human health and an on-site visit to the JRC’s unique Indoortron environmental chamber. Also, access to leading experts on the occasion of the 13th Annual Conference of the International Society of Exposure Analysis (ISEA).



Do we really know what we are breathing? The latest human exposure assessment studies reveal that the indoor environment poses its own threats of discomfort to health and, in some cases can be at least twice as polluting as outdoor levels. Hundreds of volatile components have been detected and some of them are known to be toxic, mutagenic or carcinogenic, while the number of sources is enormous. On 22 September at its facilities in Italy, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) will make presentations to the media, arrange on-site visits and give practical demonstrations of results of its latest assessments. This will include insights into potential causes of acute indoor symptoms such as allergies, asthma, mucous irritation, headaches and tiredness. It is estimated, for example, that up to 20% of the population suffers from asthma and allergies caused by substances found in indoor environments.

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What’s on offer?

Participating journalists are invited to attend the opening address of the ISEA Conference, which brings together around 500 experts in health and environment issues such as air pollution, pesticides and heavy metals. The press conference on ‘towards healthier buildings for healthier people’ will include an overview of the new EU Public Health Programme and the JRC’s role in the INDEX (Critical Appraisal of the Setting and Implementation of Indoor Exposure Limits in the EU) and THADE (Towards healthy air in dwellings in Europe) projects.

Journalists will be taken on-site to see how this research actually works in practice at the Indoortron facility where a wide variety of leading air-related experiments are conducted. This will include demonstrations of new analytical advanced methods giving us, for the first time, a fingerprint of chemical species present in dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds.

Background

It is generally perceived that buildings shelter us from most unpleasant and unhealthy outdoor conditions or pollutants. We spend, on average, 85-90% of our time indoors at home, in school, at work or during recreation. However, reductions in ventilation rate to conserve energy and extensive use of new building materials are releasing chemical compounds with unknown toxicological properties. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are now a major source of air pollution in Europe.

Results from the few monitoring exercises that have been carried out are contributing to a growing awareness about the health impacts of VOC concentrations found in indoor and outdoor air. This is increasingly associated with serious health problems. In addition, indoor pollutants such as Environmental Tobacco Smoke, radon, asbestos and benzene may substantially contribute to the increase of incidents of cancer in the population. In the case of benzene and formaldehyde, for instance, the European citizen’s overall indoor exposure is at least twice that one would expect outdoors.

What is being done?

Faced with a lack of reliable data at a European level, the JRC’s Institute for Health & Consumer Protection is developing new analytical approaches, comparison and harmonisation methods, and conducting monitoring surveys around the Member States to quantify contaminants. This is necessary to provide sound data as the basis for further exposure assessment.

The 30-m3 Indoortron facility at Ispra forms the lynchpin of this strategy, providing a highly controlled environment where air composition can be measured accurately and adjusted, without any influences from the surrounding atmosphere. For example, it enables researchers to study consumer products such as paints or photocopying machines and determine their release patterns, to create test models that predict pollutant concentrations, to evaluate the efficiency of air-cleaning devices and to carry out exposure measurement and assessment studies. The laboratory also incorporates a control room equipped with a state of the art computer system for remote manipulation of climatic parameters and the continuous collection and processing of data.

Where? Palazzo Congressi in Stresa, Lago Maggiore, Italy - press conference, Joint Research Centre, Ispra - on-site visit & practical demonstration.

Provisional Media Programme

12:00 Press conference: JRC Director General Barry McSweeney
13:00 Networking lunch: Project co-ordinators, experts & JRC officials
14:00 Departure to Ispra: Transport by coach & boat
15:00 Indoortron demonstration: ‘Practical Insights into Indoor Air Quality’
17:00 Departure: Onward travel assistance for media

Note: A final media programme accompanied by logistical guidance will be made available in advance. Furthermore, interpretation is foreseen in English & Italian.

Further Information

JRC Information and Public Relations:
Tel: +39-0332-789743, Fax - 782435
Media mobile: +39 348 4917184.
E-mail: berta.duane@cec.eu.int

Berta Duane | JRC
Weitere Informationen:
http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int

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