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Towards improved management of indoor air related health effects in Finland
University of Helsinki, Finland
Finns have taken major steps to improve the quality of indoor air for several decades. Nevertheless, concern and reported symptoms related to poor indoor air quality are common in Finland. Because of this, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare initiated the Finnish Indoor Air and Health Programme 2018-2028. This plenary describes the challenging situation in Finland.
A Finnish national survey showed that public’s risk perceptions frequently deviate from current evidence. E.g., the importance of symptoms and specific microbial measurement as markers of indoor air quality were overestimated and the multifactorial origin of symptoms was poorly recognized. Most respondents were also poorly aware of the currently knowledge on environmental intolerance to moulds and chemicals. Sad stories about individuals with this functional syndrome used to frequently appear in the media.
The situation in Finland likely differs significantly from many other countries. However, the Finnish experience suggests that if we exaggerate poorly known health risks of low-level exposures, we may in the long run cause health problems, like excessive concern, symptoms, and even new cases of environmental intolerance. Therefore, we should stress more the positive effects of good indoor environment on wellbeing. We also need to be very critical when interpreting results from symptom questionnaires, as building-related symptoms are associated not only with indoor air exposures, but also with many other biological, psychological, and social factors. These other factors may dominate especially in situations, where indoor exposure levels are low, but the concern is high. When dealing with single persons with symptoms, we need to involve the medical community and base actions on evidence-based medicine.