ANNAPOLIS -- A task force says indoor air pollution poses a serious health risk in Maryland and could cost millions of dollars in employee medical costs and lost productivity each year.
But its report to Gov. William Donald Schaefer recommended against state regulations on indoor air quality. The 15-member Indoor Air Quality Task Force said the answer lies in education and outreach programs. Government regulation would be too expensive and tedious, the task force said.
The correction of indoor air problems is often best achieved by a common sense approach, good ventilation and elimination of obvious sources, it wrote in a final draft of its report, expected to be published later this month.
Included are replacement of harsh solvents with safer alternatives, capping old building materials with nontoxic paints and better maintenance of humidifiers, which can be a fertile breeding ground for microorganisms if they aren't properly maintained.
Workers, health groups and environmentalists had wanted more government intervention, arguing that the private sector hasn't done enough to combat the problem.
The task force, created by the General Assembly in 1988, reasoned after two years of study that indoor pollution sources are diverse, often microscopic and difficult to trace. They include cleaning solvents, dust, pesticides, fabrics, cigarette smoke, mildew and animal hair.
Indoor air pollution, a relatively new phenomenon, originated with architectural designs after the 1970s oil crisis. The designs emphasize tightly closed, energy-efficient buildings.
In such confines, people become susceptible to toxic fumes from solvents and paints and from bacteria that forms in poorly maintained air conditioners.
Perhaps the most famous indoor pollution case was the discovery of Legionnaires' disease in 1976. Bacteria in a cooling vent led to the deaths of 29 people from a baffling pneumonia-like illness at a Philadelphia hotel. The National Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates that 25,000 people a year get the disease in the United States.
More typically, indoor air pollution causes a sore throat, headaches, runny eyes and nose, fatigue, and odor and taste complaints. In more serious cases, victims become nauseous and faint.
Employees close to computer screens, photoprinting and carbonless paper complain most of sickness linked to indoor air pollution, according to the report. Young children and the elderly also are susceptible.