Italian research on indoor air quality: an excellence at European and international scale

That on indoor air quality is a very complex topic, but at the same time essential to our daily lives since we spend at least 90% of our time in non-industrial living and working environments where the air is up to 5 times more polluted than the air outside with inevitable repercussions on people’s health and well-being because it is associated with respiratory diseases, asthma, allergies, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Of the 7 million premature deaths each year associated with air pollution, at least 4 million are caused by indoor pollution. We talk about this with Gaetano Settimo, President of SIIAQ, Italian Indoor Air Quality Society.

Dr. Settimo, we are beginning to talk about indoor air quality. Why is this important?
Because it is within the enclosed environments generally referred to by the English term indoor that we all spend our days, from those in which we live, work, study, play sports, move or care: homes, offices, schools, gyms, buses, subways, trains or planes but also hospitals just to name a few, and it represents one of the main issues of public health prevention. Never has indoor air quality been the focus of attention. How many times have you walked into these environments and said, “How bad the air is, how can you think in here? Can we open the window?” We have a great need for good indoor air quality. We only need to look at the time in history that we are living in to recognize and give proper weight to indoor air quality, which largely affects our exposure to air pollution. The pandemic has raised awareness of the importance of the indoor environment to health, and it is critical that this attention not be lost.

How much does indoor air quality affect a work environment and the economy?
Research findings tell us that people feel better if they breathe good indoor air quality; both at work and in all other indoor environments. Simply put, one becomes more effective and with better performance and results in terms of productivity and business performance, in addition, the number of sick days also decreases significantly, as several studies and reports have shown, therefore, it should be a given for everyone to have good indoor air but this importance has definitely increased, but much remains to be done. It shows that knowledge does not always help make things happen. It is seen only as an expense, not an investment in improving the health of everyone who spends time in the building, forgetting that health is the real wealth of a company. Repeatedly in talking with managers of companies these point out that the cost incurred for human resources represents 90 % of their budget, a figure largely determined by salaries and benefits and only a minority share for real estate and energy savings. Thus, there remains a need for real change in better promoting indoor air quality in workplaces that permanently impacts the health of workers that is 90 % of the costs. It seems obvious to say after more than three years of the pandemic, yet the relationships between indoor air quality and health deserve more attention. Therefore, there is a need for a responsible and comprehensive integrated approach of daily prevention where effective specific education and awareness-raising on air quality issues should not be forgotten, taking into broader consideration both the changes, functions and versatility of indoor environments that are in urgent need of profound renovation and the new needs of users and sustainable building management. It is critical that research on indoor air quality be effectively supported so that the evidence can be adequately brought to bear in support of the new challenges and major changes the world of work is undergoing.

What is the Italian sensibility on this topic?
Even before the pandemic there were so much research, best-practice and educational activities on indoor air quality that were trying to get the attention of even politicians to build a national plan grappling with the determinants of health, but much remains to be done. This is the time for systemic changes that better reflect the needs of all of us. In the last three years we have also made great strides in Italy both in understanding the issue and in pre-legislative activities given that the greatest difficulty remains the absence of a truly integrated national indoor air quality policy with a specific piece of legislation. Even the Legislative Decree 81/2008 still appears to be non-exhaustive and lacking a specific title for indoor environments (e.g., both as definitions and reference concentrations on the main pollutants to best allow the interpretation of results), for this reason, it is necessary to make a revision and update, which must take into account the transformations incurrent in the world of work, activities and indoor environments, the specific aspects related to indoor exposures of citizens and workers, in order to strengthen the search for solutions for the prevention and protection of health risks.

Dr. Settimo, what is made in Italy for you?
It may seem obvious but it is definitely beauty, culture, art, knowledge, creativity, quality, attention to detail, uniqueness, style, tradition and contemporaneity, respect for people and territories, special values of Italian companies and the manufactured goods they produce. These are all aspects that can also draw important benefits and successes in perspective from the increased attention to indoor air quality as an opportunity for the growth of skills, reviewing the behavior of materials, updating production processes, and opening up new slices of the market.

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Saverio Canepa
The ITALIAN Challenge