The Radon Gas And Indoor Air Quality Research Act Of 1986

Because Americans spend an estimated 90 percent of their lives indoors, the quality of indoor air is critical to their health. The hazards posed by one specific indoor air pollutant, radon gas, garnered the increasing attention of the scientific and medical community in the 1980’s. Radon gas is a colorless, odorless, radioactive byproduct of naturally-occurring materials in the earth. It is a Class A carcinogen, which means that it has been proven to cause cancer in humans, and has been found in levels in some homes that exceed maximum recommended health levels. In recognition of the potential hazard posed by radon gas in particular as well as the overall importance of indoor air quality, Congress passed the Radon Gas and Indoor Air Quality Research Act (Air Quality Research Act) in 1986.

Among other things, the Air Quality Research Act directed the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a research program with respect to indoor air quality in order to add to the understanding of health problems associated with indoor air pollutants. The statute specifically authorized research and development as to the identification, characterization, and monitoring of various sources and concentrations of indoor air pollutants; instruments for measuring indoor air pollution; indoor air pollution control and reduction technologies and methods; and building design measures for minimizing indoor air pollution. The Air Quality Research Act also directed the EPA to coordinate federal, state, and local research and development in the area of indoor air quality; make the results of the research program available to the general public; and report to Congress on the results of the research program.

The EPA’s report to Congress described the activities being carried out by the EPA and seven other federal agencies in the area of indoor air quality; summarized the current level of knowledge concerning pollutants and their sources, concentrations, and health impacts; and outlined the areas where more research was needed. The EPA concluded that indoor air quality problems and solutions had not been sufficiently defined to the point that regulation was necessary or desirable, but acknowledged that there was sufficient evidence that indoor air pollution constituted a significant part of public exposure to air pollution, thus posing both acute and chronic health risks. Accordingly, the EPA made several recommendations as to how the federal government should address indoor air quality.

The EPA recommended that additional research be conducted in order to better characterize exposure and health effects of commonly-occurring indoor air pollutants, that a research program be established to develop ways to mitigate biological indoor air pollutants, that research for the identification and mitigation of the most significant indoor air pollutants be expanded, and that a program be developed to promote proper building ventilation and the design of buildings to ensure indoor air quality. The EPA also recommended the establishment of a national program to provide technical assistance and the dissemination of information regarding the risks and mitigation of indoor air pollution, including an indoor air quality clearinghouse, and that the federal government attempt to assess the severity of the problem of indoor air pollution in commercial buildings, public buildings, and residences. As a result of the EPA’s report, Congress paid special attention to the hazards of radon and in 1988 enacted the Indoor Radon Abatement Act, which set a goal of reducing indoor levels of radon to match those found outdoors. Congress also passed the Indoor Air Quality Act in 1993, which incorporated several of the EPA’s recommendations.