Indoor air quality: setting regulatory values and surveillance

The regulatory framework and its relationship to ANSES’s research

Until recently, the quality of air inside buildings was not as major a health concern as the quality of outside air has been. Yet, in temperate climates we spend on average 85% of our time in enclosed environments, and a majority of that time in the home. Indoor air pollutants may have different sources and in recent years this subject has received increasing attention. In keeping with the past French National Environment & Health Action Plans (PNSE 2004-2008 and 2009-2013), the 2015-2019 plan (PNSE 3) incorporates several proposals on the quality of indoor air and integrates in full the Action Plan on the quality of indoor air published in 2013.

Regulations in the field of indoor air quality are based both on public health prevention initiatives with regard to certain pollutants (asbestos, radon, carbon monoxide (CO), second-hand smoke) and on the following commitments of the Grenelle de l'Environnement (Grenelle Environment Round-table):

  • introduction of labelling for materials that can emit pollutants into indoor air;
  • monitoring indoor air quality in public buildings.

Labelling of Building and Decoration Materials

Initial work has been conducted by ANSES on building materials and decoration products, with the proposal of a procedure for promoting materials that are considered to be "low VOC" as based on standardised tests of volatile organic compound emissions. This work led to the mandatory labelling of building and decoration products sold in France starting 1 September 2013. This labelling aims to provide clear consumer information on the emission levels of the substances found in these products.The label will inform consumers in a simple and readable way about the emission levels of the volatile pollutants in the product. The emission level is indicated by a ranking from A+ (best class) to C. There are four levels in all, based on 11 different parameters of evaluated emissions: 10 individual VOCs and one indicator for Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC).

In order to implement the future labelling of furniture products, ANSES has worked on the identification and selection of the chemicals with primary importance that are emitted by these products. Over 600 possible emissive substances have been identified. Based on the hazardousness levels of substances and their capacity of emission by the furniture products, 41 substances were identified as substances of interest, 31 of which are considered to be of primary importance.

Monitoring indoor air quality

The monitoring of indoor air quality in public buildings must be implemented gradually, particularly for establishments accommodating children. Proposals have been made for the assessment of ventilation systems and the measurement of pollutants (formaldehyde and benzene) and of carbon dioxide as an indicator of air quality in confined spaces, along with specific air quality prevention measures.

Pollutant measurements will be compared with indoor air guideline values and values which call for additional investigations. The Indoor Air Quality Guidelines (IAQGs) proposed by ANSES are used by the authorities as an initial foundation for setting regulatory values for the surveillance of indoor air quality. They are based exclusively on health criteria and are intended for guidance purposes only.

Thanks to ANSES's expert assessment of IAQGs, characterisations can be made of the links between airborne exposure to a given chemical and an observed harmful effect. The following 11 indoor air pollutants of interest have been assessed by ANSES with regard to IAQGs: formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, benzene, naphthalene, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, particulate matter, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen dioxide, acroleine and acetaldehyde.

In order to support the public authorities in the setting of operational values, the High Council for Public Health (HCSP) has proposed management support benchmark values for air in confined spaces based on ANSES's IAQGs, as well as a timetable for their deployment.

To date, indoor air guideline values have been set for formaldehyde and benzene (Decree no. 2011-1727 of 2 December 2011).  
ANSES proposes Indoor Air Quality Guidelines (IAQGs) based exclusively on health criteria
The High Council for Public Health (HCSP) proposes management support benchmark values for air in confined spaces based on ANSES's work and other technical, sociological and economic factors.
Official regulatory Indoor Air Quality Guidelines (IAQGs), based on the HCSP's work, are published by decree by the Ministry of Ecology