On May 24, 2022, the National Academies of Sciences released a report, sponsored by EPA, CDC, and others, on indoor chemistry and air quality issues. The report stresses the importance of these issues given that “people spend, on average, more than 80 percent of their time” in indoor environments, “often in close proximity to sources and processes that emit chemicals” and biological pollutants. A main theme of the report is that there remain many outstanding questions in this area, and that “the management of indoor chemistry is at a nascent stage,” but rapidly evolving.
Several aspects of the report are likely to be of particular interest to companies that market products for indoor use, particularly air cleaning and air sensor products.
First, the report underscores the importance of indoor air quality, an issue that has gained increased prominence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and discusses various air-cleaning technologies. The report noted the importance of “air-cleaning technologies,” while stating that for some technologies, “[t]he lack of testing and regulation has led to rampant unsubstantiated claims about efficacy and health benefits of devices. The potential health risks and benefits resulting from their use warrant further investigation and potential certification or regulatory oversight.” The report suggested that one way to address these concerns would be the development of “[s]tandardized consensus test methods.”
The report’s focus on this issue highlights that companies that market air-cleaning devices should ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements, such as EPA’s requirements for pesticide devices, and maintain adequate substantiation for the claims made for their air-cleaning devices. Other regulatory requirements, including those imposed by FDA, the FTC, states, and others may also apply, depending on the device’s intended use and the claims made for the device. This has been an area of heightened focus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies that are not compliant run the risk of agency enforcement actions, consumer lawsuits, and other adverse actions.
Second, the report notes a trend of the “increased use of consumer-grade indoor air quality monitors,” which “may help improve indoor air quality and present opportunities for citizen science” by providing actionable information regarding indoor air quality issues in real time. However, the report also observed that some devices may suffer from “potential accuracy and precision performance issues,” and that effective use of these devices would require users to be “equipped with enough knowledge to interpret the information they provide.” Similar to air-cleaning devices, the report suggested “[c]ertification processes for consumer-grade sensors” and the development of “consensus test methods” may be appropriate, noting that test methods for PM2.5 and CO2 are being developed.
Companies developing these sorts of sensors should carefully consider both the accuracy of the information those sensors generate, as well as the information and recommendations that are provided to users of those sensors. Again, regulatory and litigation risks may exist if inaccurate information or recommendations are provided.
Third¸ echoing recent Biden Administration themes, the report noted that indoor air quality can have particular environmental justice considerations due to the “potentially unique indoor environments documented in low-income, rural, and cold-climate areas as well as in communities of color.” The report also noted that indoor air quality issues also have cross-cutting linkages with climate change, outdoor air quality, and energy efficiency considerations, which the report indicated warrant further study.
Finally, the report observed that management of indoor air quality poses significant regulatory challenges, including because of the “inherent challenges in regulating non-occupational indoor air quality, such as privacy, personal liberty, and property rights.” The report suggested that, moving forward, a combination of “[b]uilding codes, standards, and guidelines,” as well as regulation of “emission factors of new and recycled products introduced indoors,” and of indoor-air cleaning technologies and sensors, may all be part of a set of “crosscutting, multipronged … solutions.”