Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#49 - California Report Describes The Problem Of Indoor Air Pollution, Gives New Sources Of Informat, 01-Nov-1987

Indoor air pollution is a much more serious problem than outdoor air
pollution. Even when indoor pollution levels are lower than outdoor
levels, exposures can be significant because people spend so much time
indoors; average Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors.

Indoor pollution levels usually exceed outdoor levels because building
materials and consumer products exude chemicals into the air, and
because air gets trapped inside buildings. The average American home
now uses 45 different products packaged as aerosol sprays.
Increasingly, people cook their food and heat their homes with unvented
stoves and kerosene heaters. Carpeting, wallboard, paint, and spackling
compounds all give off toxic fumes.

Showering, bathing, washing dishes, washing clothes, and flushing
toilets can release water pollutants into the air indoors. Air exposure
from water-borne chemicals is much greater than from drinking
contaminated water. Your lungs are designed to transfer chemicals
efficiently between the air and your blood stream. Because of the
complex structure of the inner surface of the lungs, they present a
very large surface to the atmosphere (an area as large as two tennis

Indoor levels of formaldehyde, radon, asbestos, mercury, and a variety
of organic chemicals have been measured in homes at levels exceeding
federal standards.

Solutions to these problems require less use of toxics in home products
and other changes.

People wanting more information on these subjects should write Dr.
Stanley V. Dawson, Research Division, California Air Resources Board,
P.O. Box 2815, Sacramento, CA 95812 requesting a copy of INDOOR AIR
addition to an intelligent overview of the problem, this free 70-page
report contains an 8-page bibliography for further reading.

--Peter Montague



Pollution fights often follow predictable steps:

1) A polluter sets up shop, establishes a going concern, creates jobs,
and starts making money. Years pass.

2) The community begins to suspect that something is wrong. A cluster
of leukemias appear, or the water begins to smell bad, or a group of
children faint in school. Local people begin to wonder what's happening
to them.

3) The regulatory agencies (local health department, state
environmental department and U.S. EPA) deny that any problem exists.
They refuse to monitor. In the newspapers, they say local people are
"misinformed," or "misguided" or troublemakers.

4) The "troublemakers" gain sophistication. They read; they talk late
into the night; they make a million phone calls. They gather evidence
that the agencies should be gathering. They learn to use the media.
They contact experts and they begin to develop expertise themselves.
They begin to realize that they are capable and powerful.

5) Local people push the issue and public hearings are held. At the
public hearings, industry (or, more often, their spokespeople in
government) try to turn the tables and put the burden of proof on the
victims, asking local people "What alternatives can you suggest?"

Now of course it is not up to the citizenry to re-design America's
industrial apparatus. Nevertheless, in such a situation, citizens can
often move things forward by suggesting alternatives for industry (and
their spokespeople in government) to consider.

Until recently, there was no single source for information on
alternative technologies for chemical disposal. Now the Citizen's
Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) in Arlington, VA, has
WASTES, 82 pages of information about existing technologies that can
destroy (or, in some cases, prevent) chemical wastes.

This report (first issued in August, 1986, but revised in September,
1987) is mostly aimed at people working on Superfund sites. The
government's response at most Superfund dumps has been to put a clay
cap over the site and perhaps a "grout curtain" or "slurry wall"
underground at the site. These are called "containment" methods. Caps
and walls will slow the migration of chemicals from a dump, but they
are a superficial, temporary non-solution to a serious, long-term
problem. Contain-ment methods have only one real advantage: they slow
the advance of the problem until another generation of politicians has
taken office, thus getting today's officials off the hook.

Anyone looking for real solutions at Superfund sites will want to read
this new CCHW report. It describes 55 different technologies that might
be applied to a cleanup situation, depending on the nature of the local
problem. But perhaps more importantly, it contains a list of questions
you should ask yourself about any new technology (pg. 4), a sensible
discussion of ways citizens can promote consideration of new
technologies (pgs. 37-52) and a description of EPA's program for
evaluating new technologies, called the SITE [Superfund Innovative
Technology Evaluation] program (pgs. 40-45). SITE is formally
evaluating 10 new technologies for cleanup.

CCHW has held two roundtables on advanced technologies. Without
endorsing anyone's products, they bring in citizen leaders to hear
presentations by companies selling adanced technologies. The citizens
come away from the meetings impressed by the broad range of
technologies available today for waste cleanup, and of course the
companies benefit because citizens start advocating consideration of
new technologies at sites around the country. The companies pay for the
privilege of presenting their wares to assembled citizens, so this kind
of roundtable could be a money maker for your group.

$8.95 from CCHW, P.O. Box 926, Arlington, VA 22216. Phone (703) 276-
7070. The EPA's SITE program is described in a December, 1986, booklet
PROGRAM PLAN [EPA/540/G-86/001; OSWER 9380.2-3] published by the Office
of Research and Development, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency
Response, U.S. EPA, 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460; phone the
Superfund hotline to request your copy: (800) 424-9346.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: citizen groups; alternative treatment technologies;
superfund innovative technology evaluation; superfund; remedial action;
waste treatment technologies; waste disposal technologies; indoor air
pollution; ca; formaldehyde; radon; asbestos; mercury; organic
chemicals; carb;