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Governments routinely monitor outdoor air quality—but not indoor air, which is what most people breathe most of the time. Lidia Morawska, lead researcher on a new blueprint for how governments can regulate indoor air quality and a physicist at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, spoke to Harvard Public Health.

Why study this topic?

There are no mechanisms to guarantee good indoor air quality in public buildings. There have been suggestions that voluntary or market approaches may work [because] buildings with better air quality will be higher-priced and more sought after. But there is no evidence of this happening. The reality is that indoor air quality must be regulated by standards in the same way as other pillars of public health, such as outdoor air, drinking water, and food.

What did you find?

The most important takeaway is there is a good scientific and technological basis for indoor air quality regulation and a blueprint for indoor air quality mandates. Any jurisdiction that wishes to establish its own standards can use this blueprint directly. Or [they] can adapt it to their needs using the method presented in the paper. The most difficult barrier is the lack of political will to do so. Another is the lack of government decision-making about where the responsibility lies for setting these standards.

What would you like to see happen based on what the study’s results?

An increasing number of countries developing and enacting regulations for indoor air quality. We hope countries will consider our work as a model for establishing their regulations. And I hope that within twenty years good indoor air quality in public buildings around the world will be the norm.

—Leah Samuel

(Article in Science, March 2024)

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