Why indoor air quality is an urgent matter

Tuesday, 02 April, 2024

Why indoor air quality is an urgent matter

In March 2024, industry leaders from more than 30 organisations gathered in Australia to discuss the science underpinning the need to prioritise clean indoor air.

The international experts, who were brought together by the Australian Academy of Science, the Burnet Institute and CSIRO, provided examples of research and advances in other countries. These include the adoption of regulations and standards in schools and public spaces.

Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to better protect people from airborne viruses and improve indoor air quality interventions to reduce the health, social and economic impacts of transmissible diseases and airborne pollutants.

“Clean indoor air is a human right, just like clean water and clean outdoor air. It is a societal and occupational health and safety issue that is fundamental to our health and wellbeing, with major economic implications due to lost productivity and absenteeism,” Crabb said.

“Australians spend 90% of our time indoors, but the air we breathe inside our public spaces — offices, schools and on public transport — is not always safe.

“Air quality has an impact on our health and wellbeing, but many of us have no insight into the air quality of the buildings we inhabit every day,” he cautioned.

Australian Academy of Science Chief Executive Anna-Maria Arabia said there is clear scientific evidence that poor indoor air quality has significant detrimental impacts on human health.

“We have made vast improvements in relation to outdoor air quality in relation to monitoring and standards, but we now need to turn our attention to indoor air quality, given we spend 90% of our time indoors,” she said.

“We have evidence-based technological solutions to improve air quality through monitoring, ventilation and filtration; now we need political leadership to implement these solutions.”

Crabb pointed to studies showing that poor indoor air quality is linked to lower performance. “Multiple studies in classrooms and offices have shown that high levels of carbon dioxide, a marker of poor indoor air quality, is linked to reduced academic and work performance,” he said.

“The good news is that we have the science and the engineering solutions available now to address these negative impacts. We can start by monitoring indoor air quality and working towards setting standards like we do for outdoor air.

“This needs to be coupled with greater awareness across the community and by policymakers of the benefits of clean indoor air,” Crabb concluded.

Image credit: iStock.com/aydinmutlu

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