According to a Purdue University study, office workers themselves and ventilation systems are the main culprits of pollution in office spaces.
Indoor Pollution affects productivity
Next time you go to the office, think twice before spraying yourself with perfume and deodorant. According to a study done by Purdue University, employees and ventilation systems have a major impact on indoor pollution.
“If we want to improve air quality for office workers to increase their productivity, it’s important to first understand what’s in the air and what factors affect the emission and removal of pollutants,” says Brandon Boor, assistant professor of civil engineering at Purdue University, whose team has conducted the largest study to date on this topic.
To monitor indoor and outdoor airflow in an office, the researchers installed temperature sensors on each chair. In the lab, they were able to identify previously unknown behaviors of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, including how they are converted in ventilation systems and removed by filters.
Using a spectrometer, they were able to detect in real-time compounds present in human breath, such as isoprene. They found that this volatile compound, like many others, persisted in the office even after people left the room. Logically, more people in a room means more emissions.
Humans are the main source of volatile organic compounds.
“We wanted to shed light on the role that backstage ventilation systems play in the air we breathe,” says Brandon Boor. “Our preliminary results suggest that humans are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment. We found that indoor concentrations of many compounds were 10 to 20 times higher than outdoor concentrations. If an office space is not well ventilated, these volatile compounds can affect employee health and productivity,” he continued.
The researchers also found that ozone a pollutant that enters from outdoors disappeared indoors. This is because ozone interacts with other compounds indoors and with large surfaces in a furnished office. In addition, ozone and the compounds released when an orange is peeled, called monoterpenes, mix to form new, tiny particles. These particles are so small that they could reach the lungs of people in the area.
Worse, the effects of volatile compounds released in an office may not be limited to indoor environments. According to the researchers, chemicals emitted from products such as deodorants, makeup and hairsprays can increase concentrations outdoors when they are expelled through the ventilation system.
“Indoor air chemistry is dynamic. It changes throughout the day based on outdoor conditions, ventilation system operation, and office occupancy patterns,” explains Boor.
More than 4.3 million deaths worldwide a result of indoor pollution
Indoor pollution is a topic frequently studied by researchers, and cosmetics are regularly tested for toxicity. In 2018, a US study established the link between parabens, present in many everyday products such as shower gel and shampoo, and asthma. According to the conclusions of the work, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the higher the exposure to parabens in young children, the higher the visits to the emergency room for asthma or seizures.
In 2012, more than 4.3 million people worldwide died from indoor air pollution, according to another study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. This is 600,000 more deaths than those attributable to outdoor air pollution.