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date: 21 October 2019

Indoor Air Pollution in Developed Countries

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

The built environment involves the interaction between the home (social, cultural, and economic structure of the household), the dwelling (i.e., the physical structure), the community, and the immediate environment. Evidence linking the built environment to health and well-being dates back many decades, with a range of landmark publications (e.g., the 1980 Black report in the UK) calling for improvements in the housing stock and for the alleviation of poverty. Indoor air pollution is of particular interest in developed countries because of the trend in Western societies to spend more time indoors, especially in homes where indoor exposures have been associated with poorer health. However, the timing and extent of exposure are likely to influence the resulting health outcomes, which has led to some inconsistent findings associated with a range of complex heterogeneous diseases (e.g., allergy and asthma). Furthermore, the indoor environment is modified by other outdoor pollutants (PM, NO2, VOCs & Ozone, etc.) and biological agents (pollen and fungi) that can infiltrate indoors, though this is dependent on behavioral and ventilation patterns.

Poor housing (e.g., cold and damp homes) and poverty, combined with other lifestyle characteristics (e.g., smoking, the presence of pets, and the combustion of fuels for heating and cooking), all influence the quality of indoor air. Housing improvements such as sealing homes to prevent heat loss (i.e., increased household energy efficiency) can lead to the buildup of a range of physical, chemical, and biological agents when combined with inadequate heating and ventilation. Increased exposure to these indoor air pollutants are thought to play an important role in the development and clinical course of allergic diseases (including asthma), as well as other respiratory, cancerous, and cardiovascular health problems. Asthma and other allergic diseases are a significant public health interest because they are very common today and represent a heavy economic and societal burden. Furthermore, the dramatic rise in the prevalence of these diseases over the last two to three decades cannot be fully explained by genetic variance alone. This has led to an increased focus on environmental exposures, including air pollution resulting from indoor and outdoor environments.

The health impacts examined in “Indoor Air Pollution in Developed Countries” have yet to be fully explored in the context of the interactions between the indoor home environment and outdoor agents, particularly with respect to the interplay between a range of modifiable housing conditions (e.g., poor housing, fuel poverty, and energy efficiency) and risk of allergic diseases.