Humans on average spend approximately 87% of each day in their houses and offices, and another 3-4% in their cars, all indoor environments where we can be exposed to a diverse range of chemicals released from the manmade (and some natural) construction materials or from materials we bring inside. Unfortunately, it has been clear since the 1980s that many of these chemicals (e.g., formaldehyde and flame retardants) can cause human health problems, such as endocrine disruption, cancer, and developmental effects. However, a relatively new research field, indoor chemistry, indicates that the multiple chemicals inside our homes and offices also can react, directly or through the work of catalysts or microorganisms, to create new chemicals, many of which can be very toxic. Thus, understanding indoor chemistry and its impacts is critically important to human health, as well as to building design and to pollution control.
The AAAS Symposium on the Chemistry of Indoor Environments, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, provided an opportunity for researchers and stakeholders in this important field to learn from each other regarding recent findings, research needs, and next steps. Participants heard from leading researchers in the field about recent discoveries, their impacts, and potential applications, and there were several organized opportunities to discuss and network.