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EU needs indoor air quality policy framework



The Belgian EU presidency has called for a pan-European framework to improve indoor air quality and to avoid national initiatives which could breach internal market rules.

“For a long time, all the focus has been on the quality of outdoor air,” said Belgian climate and energy minister Paul Magnette at a presidency conference devoted to product policy and indoor air quality in September 2010. “[But] we spend an average of over 80% of our time indoors [and] indoor air quality has a significant impact on our health.”

Indoor air quality is negatively affected by reinforced insulation in buildings and harmful emissions from building materials, household products, soft furnishings and floor coverings. Several EU Member States are already tackling the problem. France is developing indicators to monitor indoor air quality and boasts a compulsory labelling system for building products. Germany is currently evaluating such products. Scandinavian countries have opted for voluntary product labelling.

Belgium wants all these initiatives pulled together into a standardised EU framework to avoid any restriction of free movement of goods. Such a framework should set policy and technical guidelines to improve indoor air quality and link up policies in the different domains of health, industry, environment and research. It should also present a strategy for achieving environmental health objectives for 2020.

To tackle emissions at source, Belgium advocates pan-European criteria to define ‘good’ indoor air quality and a list of priority substances to investigate for restrictions. Emissions from household products could be regulated through existing European or national eco-label schemes, it suggests.

Belgium also wants the Commission to issue a new EU Environment and Health Action Plan (EHAP) in 2011 that will, like the current plan from 2004 to 2010, address indoor air quality as a priority topic. In a June 2010 assessment of the current plan, the presidency describes “positive signals” from health commissioner John Dalli and “key MEPs” for a new EHAP. It says Member States pledged their support when they signed up to the Parma Declaration on Environment and Health at a World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe meeting in March 2010.

Belgium’s call for ambitious new measures to tackle indoor air quality has been echoed by the European Parliament. In September 2008, MEPs adopted a damning assessment of the existing EHAP and called for economic incentives for businesses to improve indoor air quality and minimum requirements to guarantee indoor air quality in new buildings.

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