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Why the EU needs to take action on Indoor Air Quality

Webinar in the light of the Conference on the future of Europe – 29th March 2022

‘Why the EU needs to take action on Indoor Air Quality’



On the 29th of March 2022, EVIA organised a webinar aimed at highlighting the importance of Indoor Air Quality (AIQ) for Europeans’ health and well-being. This event, held under the auspices of the Conference for the Future of Europe, featured several high-level experts from the research community, the European institutions, the health sector and national organisations actively involved in the promotion of IAQ.


For years, the focus has been on fight outdoor air quality. However, in a recent report the WHO pinpointed that people spend 90 % of their time indoors. Yet, IAQ remains largely unregulated, even if there is evidence that air pollution makes us vulnerable to diseases and infections. The COVID-19 crisis has been an eye-opening moment and shed light on the importance of IAQ. There now is clear momentum to tackle indoor air pollution by updating the relevant EU policies, starting with the new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). Speakers insisted on the importance of quickly mainstreaming IAQ within the European regulatory framework, to protect Europeans’ health in particular low-income and vulnerable populations. To this end, a coordinated and coherent implementation of Indoor Environmental Quality-related (IEQ) requirements in buildings-related policies is needed. Common health guidelines to promote efficient ventilation throughout Europe are also essential.



Russell Patten (EVIA Secretary General) welcomed the panellists. He informed the audience that MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, chair of the European Parliament Interest Group on Allergy and Asthma (invited as a keynote speaker), was unable to join due to an important meeting in the European Parliament.

He briefly presented the European Ventilation Industry Association (EVIA), established in Brussels in July 2010 and representing the views and interests of the ventilation industry at the European level. He went on to introduce the panellists and provide some background information on IAQ.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put IAQ under the spotlight and demonstrated its key role to protect people’s health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Guidelines on IAQ, 1/4 of the global population spends more than 20 hours per day (around 90%) of their time indoors. This number is even higher for more vulnerable people (the elderly, children under five). Indoor air in our homes, schools, offices and factories can in some cases be twice or even five times more polluted that outdoor air. In the short term, poor IAQ can create serious health risks, such as coughing, sneezing, fatigue, and headaches. In a longer term, it can lead to a range of severe health effects such as allergic and asthma symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections, and cardiovascular diseases. People spending a lot of time in poorly ventilated rooms have for example a 50% higher risk of developing allergies. The COVID-19 virus has provided an opportunity to expand actions in this field. Today the panel will look at what can and should be done by the European Union (EU) to effectively improve IAQ.



The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has produced several reports highlighting the fact that the EU only recently adopted initiatives for the improvement of IAQ (for example under Action 12 of the EU Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2012). Can you tell us more about your research to increase the understanding of the Europe-wide public health impacts of indoor air quality? What are the main conclusions of the report you contributed to draft on promoting health in energy performing buildings and what would be your recommendations to policymakers to address this issue?

Dr. Stylianos Kephalopoulos (SK), expert from the DG Joint Research Centre (JRC) 

In 2010, DG JRC in the context of the DG SANCO funded IAIAQ project and in partnership with the Public Health Institute of Finland and the Universities of Milan and Porto, has assessed the impacts of IAQ related EU policies, actions and projects within a 10 years perspective and various scenarios considered. This project demonstrated that, in terms of burden of disease reduction due to poor IAQ only a few of the policies could reach up to half of their potentials by 2020 and others only by one fourth. More than half of the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYS) lost in 2010 due to indoor air exposures could ultimately be prevented by the assessed policies.  It was estimated that, by 2020, after a 10 years implementation of the IAQ relevant policies considered (e.g., development of health based ventilation guidelines to control exposure to pollutants from indoor and outdoor sources, indoor moisture and ensure comfortable indoor temperature, integration of IAQ in the EPBD procedure for buildings, etc.) the potential health benefits would have significantly increased.

The development of health-based ventilation guidelines in the EU (as subsequently elaborated by the EU funded HEALTHVENT project) has introduced a change of paradigm in the way to guarantee the protection of public health according to the WO Air Quality guidelines via an integrated approach combining source control measures and health-based ventilation strategies and practices while rationalizing over buildings’ energy performance.

In recent years the need for a holistic approach for better aligning and integrating policies, regulations and standards related to the built environment which cross-cutting the issues of safety, health, energy efficiency and sustainability has emerged. Policies such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), the Ecodesign directive and the Energy labelling directive all have a role to play in this process. DG JRC, in the context of the EPBD recasts, has supported DG ENER to assess whether the ventilation and IAQ criteria as implemented by the EU MS could guarantee that existing and future high energy performing buildings in the EU will be also healthy for their occupants.

A coordinated and coherent implementation of indoor environmental quality related requirements (IAQ, comfort, acoustic, lighting) in building related policies in EU is still missing as from a regulatory point of view this remains under the competencies and responsibilities of the EU Member States with no binding requirements at EU level.  In the current proposal for the 2nd recast of EPBD, IAQ and health aspects in energy performing buildings in EU has been more emphasized and given prominence with respect to the current EPBD related requirements. In this context, DG JRC is developing indoor environmental quality indicators for integration into the EU Building Stock Observatory; it also technically manages the EC’s Information Platform for Chemical Monitoring – IPCHEM which represents the reference single access point for searching, accessing and retrieving  chemical occurrence data in various media including IAQ data generated by EU funded-research projects and monitoring programs in the EU Member States.

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In the article you co-authored entitled “A paradigm shift to combat indoor respiratory infection”, you mention the fact that airborne pathogens and respiratory infections are addressed fairly weakly, if at all, in terms of regulations, standards, and building design and operation, pertaining to the air we breathe. What in your opinion should be done to address this issue and what role can IAQ play in the process?

Dr. Lidia Morawska (LM), Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health

Interest for IAQ is growing within the research community over the past years. Scientists acknowledge that COVID-19 is clearly airborne and needs to be removed from the air. Consequently, infectious agents in the built environment are being scrutinised. Ventilation plays a key role in this process. The question of IAQ in building policies relates to mitigating all indoor air risks (indoor anthropogenic sources, airborne infections, ingress of outdoor pollutants, dampness and mould, thermal comfort). Building/HVAC design, building operation and energy demand are all crucial. Most countries have outdoor air quality standards (monitoring, reporting and strict implementation) but nothing similar for IAQ – expect for a handful of countries, most of which have no implementation framework. IAQ is currently a regulatory no man’s land. In the near future, it will be harder to naturally ventilate indoor spaces without proper ventilation.

IAQ standards should prescribe concentrations of indoor pollutants and be enforceable; ventilation will be an element of enforcement of IAQ; and ventilation in shared spaces needs to be supplemented with other measures to reduce airborne infections. Improved IAQ is good for our health and for the economy at large.

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EPHA has recently been looking into the influence of heating and cooking on outdoor air quality, the Impact of environmental factors on virus infections and the relation between air pollution and COVID-19. Your organisation is also increasingly looking into IAQ. Can you explain how you are doing this, why this is important for your membership and what your initial findings are?

Alice Chapman-Hatchett (ACH), President of European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)

For years, the focus has been on outdoor air quality. However, the WHO mentioned that people spend 90 % of their time indoor and yet, IAQ remains unregulated, even if there is evidence that air pollution makes us vulnerable to diseases and infections. With Covid we realised that infections come from poor air quality but also that our elders suffer worse. Monitoring and improvement of Air quality was one of the keys to sort out the crisis. By 2030 at the latest, any future clean air legislation should reflect the latest evidence on the damage of air pollution and include mechanisms to automatically update air quality standards. IAQ should become an integral part of building, planning and development. EU legislation should require higher ventilations requirements for buildings with gas hobs.

Children are one of the most vulnerable subgroups to poor IAQ because of their naturally higher breathing rates and because they have weaker respiratory and immune systems. Studies have demonstrated that strong exposure to indoor pollution could lead to asthma, mental health damages and even higher rates of suicides. In 2020, the UK listed the poor indoor air quality as a cause of death in a death certificate of a 9-year-old girl in London.

We need to guarantee and legislate for clean indoor air, meaning ventilation, air filtration, and air hygiene ratings in indoor spaces: it is not rocket science but simply requires political will.


The Belgian Cellule Régionale d’Intervention en Pollution Intérieure – CRIPI (Green Ambulance) analyses indoor pollutants in dwellings on medical request when a patient suffers from symptoms that may be related to his home. Can you tell us more about your work and how it relates to IAQ?

Sandrine Bladt (SB), expert from the Cellule Régionale d’Intervention en Pollution Intérieure – CRIPI (Green Ambulance)

The CRIPI’s mission is to identify and quantify sources of indoor pollution in residential buildings when health problems occur. A dedicated team of scientists intervenes on the ground and collects relevant samples and data. Since September 2000, CRIPI has published 3 200 surveys upon medical request. The most important category of patients are children under 5 years old. What has been found during the 20 years of CRIPI’s existence is that the parents’ bedrooms most often have the largest visible mould surfaces. Most of it them mainly due to condensation problems, particularly because of a lack of ventilation. These contaminated spaces can lead to allergy and other kinds of infections. Improving the air quality improves the health of residents according to doctors and the patients themselves (about 65 % of survey respondents in both cases).

CRIPI has also published research on IAQ in nurseries and kindergartens, which shows a very high concentration of CO2 and environmental bacteria, mainly due to a lack of air exchange in the playrooms and classrooms.

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You work in the French Scientific and Technical Center for Building and lead the French Indoor Air Quality Observatory, created by the French government in 2001 to carry out nationwide surveys on indoor air quality (IAQ) in buildings. Can you tell us more about your work and what do you retain about the IAQ situation in French buildings? What is missing in your view on the regulatory side to ensure an adequate IAQ in all buildings?

Dr. Corinne Mandin (CM), Head of the Indoor Environment Quality Division at the Scientific and Technical Centre for Buildings (CSTB)

In the early 2000, France committed to improve its knowledge of Air quality. Indoor air quality in dwellings is complex and changing. The CSTB Observatoire de Qualité de l’Air Intérieur (OQAI) measures different types of chemicals inside buildings. The CSTB/OQAI observed that organic solvents concentrations are decreasing over time. However, concentrations of limonene and other substances used in cleaning products or fresheners are increasing. Semi-volatile organic compounds are also omnipresent in dwellings, such as insecticides, flame retardants, or smoke from cooking.

IAQ in schools is very poor; it is actually the worst indoor environment that has been studied: 40 % of schools have at least one classroom with a very high air stuffiness index. 25% of French schools have a mechanical ventilation system and windows are not regularly open. In only 19% of the schools are there lower concentrations of pollutants in both air and dust.

There is a clear socio-economic cost to poor IAQ, with around 28,000 new diseases and 20,000 deaths per year due to indoor air pollution. Following the CSTB research, several legislative decisions were taken such as mandatory labelling of building products’ emissions, mandatory monitoring of IAQ in schools, and a mandatory control of mechanical ventilation systems in new buildings (RE2020). However, there is still a lot of work, especially in raising awareness about IAQ, even if the pandemic has helped a lot. Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient is important, but ventilation needs be included in the renovations to ensure better IAQ.

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How can source control be effectively implemented and executed?

CM: This is a key point; several countries in the EU have a labelling on building construction products. The next step would be mandatory labelling for other types of polluting products.

LM: Awareness of the building occupants is important: they are the one operating the sources. The prime example are candles. Hence, awareness-raising should be prioritised.

SB: It is sometimes challenging to share advice with occupants. There is a “not in my backyard” syndrome. Unless you can provide very sound scientific arguments, tenants tend to shift the blame to landlords.

Children living in a home with a gas stove face particular health risks. Is the Commission planning to set NOx limits is source regulation (Ecodesign) for cooking appliances?

SK: The Commission is indeed working on this as part of the revision of the Ecodesign directive.

ACH: From the report commissioned by EPHA, this was the most disturbing finding (the impact from stoves and log burners are very negative). The situation in Ukraine should lead Europeans to reduce their reliance on gas appliances. The actual design of buildings also plays a crucial role.


Serena Pontoglio (SP), team leader at DG ENER Unit B3 on Buildings Policy and Renovation Wave implementation

In the Renovation Wave Strategy (aimed at doubling rate of renovation in the EU by 2030) it is recognised that renovating buildings is an opportunity to address multiple issues including improving conditions enabling a better indoor air quality. Such opportunity should not be missed and that is why the EPBD proposal reinforces several provisions related to IAQ and to ventilation, while leaving flexibility to Member States to set their own standards.

The EPBD proposal introduces requirements to renovate worst performing buildings (G, F classes) – which are the ones which in relative terms are more inhabited by low-income households. As indicated by Alice Chapman-Hatchett, actions should focus to improve the well-being of the most vulnerable populations.

All new buildings must be zero-emission buildings – ZEBs (Article 7). ZEBs must have monitoring and control of indoor air quality (Article 11 – Technical building systems). This is probably the most direct provision. It applies also to major renovations when technically feasible. The Energy Performance Certificate (A, B, C classes) includes a new voluntary indicator for the presence of fixed sensors and controls of indoor air quality. Inspection schemes now include standalone ventilation systems. They also take better into account the daily use of systems (not just design conditions).

EPBD is about the energy performance, it’s important to recall that energy performance is always subordinated to the need to maintain the required levels of thermal comfort, indoor air quality and indoor environmental quality. However, as Dr Moraska said, it’s important also to think about how to be energy efficient while at the same time ensuring high indoor air quality. The current EPBD clearly identifies the need to subordinate energy performance to maintain internal conditions.

Russell Patten thanked the panellists for sharing their insight on the opportunities and challenges relating to IAQ and the audience for their attention. He encouraged stakeholders to continue promoting better IAQ, in particular in the discussions around the new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).