Efforts to tackle air pollution have traditionally tended to focus on the quality of air outdoors and on measuring and controlling pollutants from industry and transport. EnVIE, a European Coordination Action on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Health Effects, aimed to increase our understanding of the Europe-wide public health impacts of indoor air quality, acting as an interface between science and policy-making in this area. The EU-funded project - starting in March 2004 and ending in October 2008 - was one of those carried out under the “impact of environmental issues on health” research priority of the EU’s Sixth Research Framework Programme. It set out to investigate typologies and levels of indoor air pollution in Europe and its effects on health.
Most Europeans spend the vast majority of their time indoors, exposed not only to pollutants that enter from the outside but also to substances arising from building materials and from activities within the home or office like cleaning and cooking. Indoor environments can in fact contain relatively high levels of contaminants because of the lower rates of air exchange indoors compared to outdoors. But until now, despite all that has been known about the extent of our exposure to such pollutants and their links with environmental allergies and other ailments - especially, for example, as regards the increasing incidence of asthma - it has been difficult to produce results at the policy level on this issue.
The EnVIE project aimed to articulate knowledge from different disciplines, involving a wide range of stakeholders in contributing to a new EU policy on IAQ. It took an original approach - what one might term “the EnVIE concept” - which consisted in examining the relationship between sources of indoor air pollution and related health effects by taking those effects as a starting point and then working through the exposures to be able to identify the causes and sources. The policies identified are based on the precautionary principle - that is, a strategy of controlling potential problems at source and of controlling exposure through ventilation.
EnVIE succeeded in bringing all relevant stakeholders together to exchange experience through conferences and workshops and to discuss the issue of indoor air quality and its health impact in relation to existing policies. The project showed that there is a need for harmonisation of efforts, in particular concerning source control on all potential paths for indoor air pollution and concerning exposure assessment. It proposed improvements to existing policies regarding IAQ. It also suggested and contributed to a prospective Green Paper on IAQ policy for the EU: this major outcome should enable an objective dialogue among all relevant stakeholders, the European Parliament and the European Commission.