Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially with regard to the health and comfort of building occupants. Indoor exposure to air pollutants may occur in both private and public indoor environments, including homes, offices, schools, hospitals and transport systems. IAQ is affected by toxic gases (such as carbon monoxide [CO] and nitrogen oxides [NOx]), volatile organic compounds (VOCs, such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, styrene), pesticides, lead, flame retardants, respirable particles and dust, smoking (secondhand and third-hand), various biological pollutants (such as mold and bacteria), and physical contaminants (radiation, electromagnetic radiation, and asbestos). The main factors affecting IAQ are ventilation, indoor sources of pollutants, and the quality of ambient air entering the building.
Poor IAQ has been associated with health effects such as asthma, chronic obstructive lung diseases, bronchitis (primarily in children), allergic reactions, and an increased risk of infectious disease. Low socio-economic status is also likely to contribute to the presence of factors that significantly affect IAQ.
Standards and regulations for indoor air in Israel can be divided into three categories: those related to planning and building (requirements regarding ventilation, insulation, and building materials), those related to maximum permissible concentrations of indoor air pollutants (radon), and those related to emissions from materials used in the indoor environment (formaldehyde emissions from wood products).
The Planning and Building Regulations passed in 1970, and most recently updated in 2008, require ventilation in buildings with the aim of improving IAQ. This includes requirements regarding windows, vents, and ventilation pipes. In addition, the regulations define the minimal number of air exchanges required for ventilation of indoor spaces via artificial ventilation systems.
Regulations on thermal insulation introduced in Israel in 1985 required more insulation in newly constructed buildings. However, no requirements for improving thermal insulation were imposed on existing buildings. After implementation of the regulations, the proportion of homes with condensation-related mold decreased by 25% and those with extreme mold growth decreased by 20%.
The Planning and Building Regulations passed in 1970 and most recently updated in 2008 require that buildings be planned and built in a way that prevents accumulation of high radon levels that can harm health. In addition, the regulations set maximum permissible indoor radon levels. Israel Standard 5098 also sets limits on the concentration of natural radionuclides in building products.
Although not developed specifically for indoor air pollutants, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) 2006 Air Quality Guideline Values do provide guideline values for 110 contaminants. The 2011 Israeli Standard 6210 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, based on the 2010 US standard, defines permitted values for particular indoor contaminants (including sulfur dioxide [SO2], nitrogen dioxide [NO2], carbon monoxide, PM10, benzene, toluene, perchloroethylene and formaldehyde). This standard is not mandatory, but is expected to become mandatory within the framework of the Ministry of Construction and Housing Building Code.
There are four Israeli standards that establish maximum permissible levels of formaldehyde emissions from wood materials. In all of these standards, the sections pertaining to the emission of formaldehyde are mandatory. Due to concerns about the extra sensitivity of infants to formaldehyde, Standard 682 – which addresses the safety of infant cribs – lowers the maximum permitted value of formaldehyde in cribs to 70% of the value defined for raw materials.
Israel Standard 5281, which is voluntary, addresses sustainable building, including energy, land, water, building materials, health, waste, and transportation. The standard addresses issues related to ventilation, use of raw materials that do not emit toxics and quality of ambient air entering the building (for example from underground parking areas).
Data on Indoor Air Quality in Israel
The MoEP conducts a National Radon Gas Survey. The survey aims to identify and map regions of relatively high levels of radon gas and to define regions of potential high risk for the presence of radon, based on measurements of radon gas concentrations in buildings. The last survey, published in 2002 was conducted in "residential secure spaces" in a nation-wide sample and in bomb shelters along the northern border. The survey found that the level of impermeability of residential secure spaces led to high short-term measurements. However, the MoEP concluded that since individuals are not expected to spend more than six consecutive hours in these residential secure spaces under normal conditions, radon levels do not exceed the recommended action level of 200 becquerels per cubic meter.
Due to concerns about excessive air pollution adjacent to bus platforms at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, the MoEP has been continuously monitoring daily levels of nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine respirable particles (PM2.5). The results indicate nitrogen dioxide levels in excess of warning values and high short-term concentrations of fine respirable particles, most of which were diesel particles that are known to be carcinogenic. It is important to note that bus platforms are not within a closed building and therefore do not meet the strict definition of indoor air, nevertheless emissions from the buses may impact IAQ within the bus station.
With the exception of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, levels of indoor air contaminants in Israel are not regularly measured. The MoEP measured values of nitrogen oxides in two educational institutions in central Israel over the course of three months (January through March 2008). The concentrations measured within the buildings were similar to those tested in the outside environment. While no exceedances were reported for daily average environmental values, the study did find about 10 exceedances of the half-hour environmental value within the buildings.
In certain areas where the soil is contaminated with chlorinated organic compounds, sporadic tests are conducted to measure concentrations of chlorinated organic compounds inside buildings. Due to concerns that penetration of hazardous ground gases is polluting the air in underground spaces in the Tel Aviv area, the local authority for environmental quality has conducted measurements of chlorinated and volatile organic hydrocarbons. The pollutants found in underground spaces include: chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene and vinyl chloride. Based on the findings in a school in the Tel Aviv area, the MoEP required the Tel Aviv Municipality to adopt various preventive measures to reduce exposure of students to indoor pollutants and recommended continued follow-up.
Research on Indoor Air Quality in Israel
- In recent years, there have been no epidemiological studies in Israel investigating the connection between IAQ and morbidity.
- Researchers at the Technion Center of Excellence in Exposure Science and Environmental Health (TCEEH) are studying the behavior of nicotine in the indoor environment and the presence of flame retardant materials in dust inside cars.
Progress and Challenges
- Since the average person spends up to 90% of his or her time inside buildings, it is important to collect data on IAQ in Israel, with an emphasis on public buildings. The MoEP in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education is planning a pilot program in schools throughout Israel in 2015. Following collection of data on IAQ, it is important to evaluate the potential health impact of exposure to indoor air pollutants in Israel, particularly among sensitive populations such as children.
- Residential dust is an important tool for assessing human exposure to indoor contaminants. There are no available data on levels of contaminants in residential dust in Israel.
- Green Building, which has recently been promoted in Israel, provides an opportunity to boost efforts to protect IAQ in new buildings, including testing of ventilation systems. Israel Standard 5281 for Sustainable Building, passed in 2011, includes reference to ventilation and air quality in buildings with forced ventilation systems and restrictions on VOC levels in buildings. However, reducing energy consumption by thermal insulation can have potentially adverse effects on IAQ in homes due to the accumulation of pollutants from indoor sources.
- The Ministry of Construction and Housing's new Building Code, which has yet to be approved, and Israel Standard 6210 (Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality) will be able to provide guidelines for reducing human exposure to chemical, physical, and biological pollutants in indoor environments. However, it is important to emphasize that Standard 6210 does not apply to private homes, above-ground buildings of three stories or less, vehicles, or boats.
- Sick Building Syndrome, typically affecting workplaces, is an important public health issue. The Ministry of Economy and the MoEP are not authorized to routinely monitor air quality in closed buildings used as workplaces, and there is unclear division of authority between these bodies in the case of complaints regarding Sick Building Syndrome. Collaboration among the Ministries of Health, Environmental Protection, Education, and Economy is required to develop a comprehensive approach to this problem.
This chapter and all other chapters in the report was written by a team of scientists and professionals from the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Environment and Health Fund.
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