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Addressing Indoor Air Quality through Model Law

May 30, 2023


Many Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors where the concentration of pollutants is two to five times higher than outdoors. Existing laws regulating indoor air quality are inconsistent and incomplete. In response a team of scientists, policymakers, and legal drafters is in the process of crafting a Model State Indoor Air Quality Act.

The COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the profound harms of airborne infectious diseases. Most COVID-19 infections occur indoors. Efficacious measures to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) can decrease exposures to diseases and other contaminants (e.g., nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter) that harm millions of Americans annually.

With many Americans spending approximately 90 percent of their time indoors where the concentration of pollutants is two to five times higher than outdoors, improving IAQ through law and policy is a key 21st century public health objective.

Existing federal, state, and local laws regulating IAQ, however, are inconsistent and incomplete. Despite repeatedly introducing legislation in the 1990s, Congress has not directly authorized federal public health authorities to regulate IAQ. State legal endeavors to date regulating IAQ represent at best a patchwork of criteria and recommendations.

Yet, changes are underway. Environmental scientists are increasingly demonstrating the health benefits of IAQ. In 2022, the Biden Administration launched a voluntary clean buildings initiative. On May 12, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new IAQ guidance recommending a target of five air exchanges per hour in many U.S. buildings. Multiple states and larger municipalities are seeking new legal interventions to address IAQ.

In response a team of scientists, policymakers, and legal drafters led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security is in the process of crafting a Model State Indoor Air Quality Act (MSIAQA). The objective is to produce “a cohesive set of legislative provisions that achieve tangible improvements in IAQ in public indoor spaces in the interests of improved communal health, greater worker productivity, and economic well-being.”

A working draft of the Act presents a slate of equitable, legislative options for states considering enhanced IAQ in public buildings that balance individual rights, economic and business interests, and other considerations. The Act authorizes proven legal techniques utilized in other environmental health areas to improve IAQ. These include legal authorities to test public buildings for IAQ, post test results onsite and online, assess buildings’ overall IAQ, and seek improvements through proper ventilation or air exchange rates. In cases where special risks to IAQ arise (e.g., disease outbreak, mass contaminant identification), state agency investigations or inspections may be utilized to protect building occupants from specific harm.

The Act incentivizes building owners to address IAQ through clean building certifications, expedited reviews of their properties, and allowances for tax-deductible business expenses attributed to improved IAQ. Owners that complete IAQ assessments and remedy identified issues in advance of formal complaints may be exempted from agency inspections. Designated state agencies implementing the Act are authorized to promulgate supporting regulations in collaboration with state-created advisory councils.

With anticipated final completion and national circulation this summer, the MSIAQA may provide a legal and ethical foundation for improving IAQ through states (and their local governments). Challenges to implementation include funding limitations and misinformation of IAQ science, and remedies. With growing public awareness of the risks of poor indoor air, however, model legal approaches offer a distinct opportunity to improve IAQ in public buildings for the betterment of all.

This post written by Summer Ghaith, J.D., M.D. (Candidate 2025), Senior Legal Researcher; Erica White, J.D., M.P.H. (Candidate 2024), Senior Attorney; and James G. Hodge, Jr., J.D., LL.M, Director, Network for Public Health Law – Western Region Office. The authors are working with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security to conceptualize and draft the model state IAQ act.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document do not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.

Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not represent the views of (and should not be attributed to) RWJF.