Twenty Five Years of IAQ Complaint Resolution

Ed N. Light, CIH


In 1984, the author proposed a role for public health agencies in the new field of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).  At that time, health departments were being increasingly asked to resolve exposures to formaldehyde, asbestos and pesticides without dedicated resources or specific regulatory authority.  Sanitarians demonstrated that they could effectively screen occupant complaints based on traditional environmental health investigation methods coupled with basic knowledge of IAQ principles.  Successful health department intervention became the basis for the EPA Guidance Document, “Building Air Quality" (1991). 


In the following years, IAQ investigations often addressed "Sick Building Syndrome" (symptoms attributed to the indoor environment with a variety of potential causes) and have recently focused almost exclusively on mold.  Investigators have also become polarized into those emphasizing pollutant testing and those following a more general, hypothesis-driven approach.  While an "IAQ Industry" has developed with unsubstantiated claims of health benefits, effective IAQ complaint screening continues to be based on identification and control of root causes, enhancement of building operations and maintenance and risk communication.  Complex or controversial situations may require a multi-disciplinary team approach, including medical, engineering and industrial hygiene professionals.