Publishes First Indoor Air Quality Guidelines on Dampness and Mould
Copenhagen and Bonn
16 July 2009
Today, WHO publishes its first guidelines on indoor air quality,
addressing dampness and mould. (1) They are the result of a rigorous
two-year review of the currently available science by 36 leading experts
worldwide, coordinated by the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The authors
conclude that occupants of damp or mouldy buildings, both private and
public, have up to a 75% greater risk of respiratory symptoms and asthma.
The guidelines recommend the prevention or remediation of dampness- and
mould-related problems to significantly reduce harm to health.
“As people spend most of their daily lives in homes, offices, schools,
health care facilities or other buildings, the quality of the air they
breathe indoors is critical for their health and well-being,” says Dr
Srdan Matic, Unit Head, Noncommunicable Diseases and Environment at the
WHO Regional Office for Europe. “For the first time, these guidelines
offer guidance to public health and other authorities on how to ensure
safety and healthy conditions in buildings. We believe that this work will
contribute to improving the health of people around the world.”
The book is the first in a series of WHO guidelines on indoor air quality.
They are intended for worldwide use, to protect health under various
environmental, social and economic conditions. Future publications
addressing selected chemicals and combustion products are being prepared.
Together, the guidelines will comprise the first-ever comprehensive
evidence-based recommendations to tackle indoor air pollution, one of the
major causes of death and disease worldwide.
Globally, about 1.5 million deaths each year, mostly among women and
children in developing countries, are associated with the indoor
combustion of solid fuels. In the European Union (EU) alone, combustion,
chemicals from building materials and dampness cause an annual loss of
over 2 million years of healthy life due to premature death or to chronic
diseases, such as asthma and cardiovascular diseases.
In many EU countries, 20–30% of households have problems with dampness.
Strong evidence indicates that this is a risk to health. In damp
conditions, hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi grow indoors and
emit spores, cell fragments and chemicals into the air. Exposure to these
contaminants is associated with the incidence or worsening of respiratory
symptoms, allergies, asthma and immunological reactions. Children are
particularly susceptible. According to recent evidence, 13% of childhood
asthma in developed countries in the WHO European Region could be
attributable to damp housing.
Knowledge of indoor air pollutants is the key to enabling action to
prevent related health effects and maintain clean air. Many of these
actions are beyond the power of individual building users and occupants,
and must be taken by public authorities. The guidelines recommend measures
to ensure that buildings are well designed, constructed and maintained,
and to make adequate housing and occupancy policies. Building owners are
responsible for providing healthy workplaces or living environments, free
of moisture and mould, by ensuring adequate insulation. Occupants are
responsible for managing the use of water, heating and ventilation to
avoid excess humidity.
“In the absence of clear evidence, building standards and regulations have
not sufficiently targeted prevention and control of excess moisture. The
new guidelines are essential, as they provide reference criteria for what
constitutes healthy indoor air,” concludes Dr Michal Krzyzanowski,
Regional Adviser, Noncommunicable Diseases and Environment at the WHO
Regional Office for Europe, and the leader of the WHO project to draw up
the guidelines. “More than 100 studies on the health effects of damp
environments were reviewed in the preparation process. This body of
evidence forms the basis of the guidelines and provides a solid foundation