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INDOOR AIR, HUMAN HEALTH AND CHEMICALS
THE MISSING 90% OF AMERICA'S AIR POLLUTION PROBLEMS
Unfortunately, very few Americans spend most of their time outdoors. Indeed, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. While outdoor air is covered by a whole series of complex and expensive regulations, many Americans would be startled to learn that indoor air is for all intents and purposes totally unregulated outside of certain industries with very hazardous working conditions (like coal mining). Even more disturbing is the fact levels of some chemicals indoors are often over 100 times that of outdoor concentrations. It should also be noted that human beings are generally more sensitive to chemicals indoors because of the far lower levels of humidity than outdoors, particularly in winter.
Until 1987 the EPA did not even have a division of indoor air. Even today the EPA only spends $33 million on indoor air in a budget of $7.7 billion. This is one half of 1% of the EPA budget. In spite of a dangerous indoor air disaster inside its own headquarters, the EPA under Carol Browner has actually cut back its commitment to indoor air by all but eliminating its indoor air research program.
This is a truly bizarre and disturbing situation in light of public concern and serious scientific evidence that has come to light in the last 20 years. Here are some organizations that have been involved with this issue:
THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION. As far back as 1984, the World Health Organization stated that up to 30% of modern buildings may pose health hazards to their occupants. (Indoor Air Fact Sheet Number 4, Sick Building Syndrome, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, April 1991)
A MAJORITY OF AMERICA'S STATE ATTORNEY GENERALS. Over half the attorney generals of America's states were so disturbed by the problems of indoor air safety related to carpeting in 1991 that they threatened legal action against the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission unless they set tougher standards for their "Green Tag" program which related to chemical emissions from carpeting. (Letter of Dan Morales, Attorney General of Texas, to Jerry Thorn, General Counsel, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 12/23/91)
A MAJORITY OF THE U.S. SENATE. Since 1989 the U.S. Senate has passed a major indoor air bill no less than 3 times by overwhelmingly margins with support from both liberals and conservatives. (It did not become law because the House Commerce Committee kept it in committee from 1989 to 1992, and only allowed it to come to the floor late in 1994, too late for a conference with the Senate.) (Click here for exact text of bill, S. 656, during 1993.)
A MAJORITY OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. The U.S. House passed similar legislation in 1994, and this would have become law if it had not passed too late in the session for a conference committee with the Senate.
THE U.S. OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINSTRATION OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. OSHA states that the air in 30% of the America's 4.4 million non-industrial buildings is unsafe. (Washington Times 11/27/94) OSHA's request for public comments about indoor air safety in 1994 produced the highest response in its entire history from the public. (OSHA web site April 30, 1998)
THE EUROPEAN UNION. The European Union is so disturbed about the situation that they have funded a major study on the question of VOC emissions, emissions from volatile organic chemicals indoors. A particular problem is the fact that in the indoor environment these emissions combine in the air and form a miriad of new chemicals. Dr. Maurizio de Bortoli, who is leading this study for the EU's Environmental Institute states, "We know practically nothing about the mixtures". (New Scientist 6/21/97)
THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. The EPA has know since 1985 that there was the potential of very serious health problems from indoor air. As The Los Angeles Times (12/26/89) observed in a detailed report on the EPA, back in 1985:
"A five year EPA study surveyed 600 individuals in six cities to find out what their exposure was to 20 difference chemicals, some of which has been linked to cancer and birth defects. Researchers were startled by the findings. It did not matter whether the study participants lived in the Los Angeles area next to an oil refinery or in a pristine rural setting. Indoor concentrations of the 20 chemical compounds studied were almost always higher, often as much as 10 time or more, than they were outdoors. Peak concentrations in some homes were 200 to 500 times higher than outdoors."
According to the EPA's own figures indoor air health problems may cost America:
In 1987 the EPA published a comparison of total exposure to air pollutants which stated that:
" The major finding of this study is the observation that personal and indoor exposures to these toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are nearly always greater - often much greater - than outdoor concentrations. We are led to the conclusion that indoor air in the home and at work far outweighs outdoor air as a route of exposure to these chemicals".
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE. On April 21, 1998 the Vice President announced an historic agreement between the U.S. government and the American chemical industry as the keynote of his Earth Day speech. For the first time the industry would use a set of standard safety tests on the 3,000 chemicals that are produced in quantities of one million pounds a year or more. Many people would be astounded to know that 90% of these chemicals have not been subject to a standard safety test such as the one announced by the Vice President on Earth Day. (New York Times, April 22, 1998)
Over 70,000 chemicals are used by the American people, and in indoor air their effect can be very hard to trace since they combine in the air to form many new chemicals. The testing of these chemicals is an area of science that is in its infancy. A particularly serious problem is the long term effects of chemical exposures that do not produce immediate symptoms.
Until more research is done, people will remain in the dark about health problems from chemicals. All too often chemical poisoning is confused by doctors with "allergic reactions" or patients are simply told that their problems are psychological. Undoubtedly, in many cases such diagnoses are correct, but as Vice President Gore observes in his introduction to the highly disturbing book, Our Stolen Future, there is growing medical evidence that chemicals are having serious long term health effects that we know little about. This situation was explored at length in a recent PBS Frontline documentary.
The solution is professional, no-nonsense, scientific research to separate fear-mongering or quackery from genuine problems. For 9 years, the EPA has ignored the advice of its own scientists and the majority of America's Senators, who have repeatedly voted for $20 million a year in research funds.
Today on its own official indoor air web site(updated as of 2/18/98) the EPA states that :
"In recent years , comparative risk studies performed by the EPA and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health."
On its own official budget web site in 1998 the EPA states that:
"Indoor air pollution poses high risks to human health, especially in sensitive populations, and has ranked among the top four environmental risks".
The EPA then goes on to assure the public that it is "actively involved in a concerted effort to better understand indoor air pollution and to reduce people's exposure to air pollutants in offices, homes schools and other indoor environments where people live, work and play."
"Actively Involved"? "Concerted effort"? The EPA was not even able to prevent an indoor air disaster at its own headquarters at Waterside Mall. It actually opposed efforts by the Senate to increase its tiny level funding for indoor air research from 1989 to 1993.
The EPA has almost totally eliminated its research funding for indoor air.
Its total budget for indoor air is only one half of 1% of its $7.7 billion total budget proposal for Fiscal Year 1999.
Actions speak louder than words. This figure sums up EPA's lack of commitment to indoor air health and safety.
Since 1989 a bipartisan majority of U.S. Senators have three times passed by overwhelming margins a responsible indoor air bill to cope with EPA's repeated failures to back up its rhetoric with action on this critical health care issue. This measured passed both houses of Congress in 1994 but did not become law because of the crowded Congressional schedule in late 1994 (dealing with Clinton's health care plan). Responsible members of both parties should revive this bipartisan piece of legislation and pass it as soon as possible.
EPA has shown that it can't even protect its own headquarters and its own employees from the health dangers in America's indoor air. Without Congressional intervention, the American people will not get safe indoor air.
Professional scientific tests of 90% of the air that Americans breath should not be a "liberal" or "conservative" issue. This is not only common sense. It is a basic issue of human health and safety
The following WFF charts provide more material on this subject.