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Indoor air pollution rises on EPA's agenda

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The federal government is taking a first step toward a coordinated attack on indoor air pollution. The move has been prompted by years of accumulating fragmentary evidence on the potential health hazards posed by often innocent-looking household items.

Consider the sofa.

If stuffed with urea-formaldehyde, this symbol of comfort and hospitality can also be a source of toxic formaldehyde gas. For that matter, so can plywood. In fact, scores of household and industrial items are known to taint the air.

Experts say the problem is more serious in newer, tightly built structures where the gases have a chance to collect, rather than in drafty old buildings.

Scientists and policymakers have not decided what constitutes a safe level of indoor air pollution.

This is one reason why new efforts stress further research on the subject instead of formulating federal regulations. Government officials expect current research efforts to lead to specific federal action, perhaps as early as next year.

``The level of public consciousness is being raised, that's part of the battle,'' says Charles Elkin, acting assistant administrator for air and radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency. ``Now we have to develop a total strategy that would spell out what the EPA might do, and what individuals, cities, and states should do.''

Congress is considering legislation to provide money for a sweeping research program into the causes and cures of indoor air pollution. EPA officials are drafting a report for agency administrator Lee Thomas which will detail the specific steps of a ``total strategy'' against indoor air pollutants.

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