Linked to a wide range of life-threatening diseases and painful symptoms, air pollution is a leading public health issue worldwide. However, air pollution can be responsible for harming more than just your physical health. Both short-term and long-term exposure, even to low levels of air pollution, is known to decrease productivity and cognitive function significantly.
In this article, Camfil Canada’s air quality expert explains the reasons behind lost productivity due to air pollution in offices and schools, and the experts discuss the potential solutions.
Why Indoor Air can be More Polluted than Outdoor Air
Two main factors lead to higher levels of air pollution indoors than outdoors:
- Poor ventilation. Pollutants in the outdoor air are usually unable to become concentrated in specific places because of the wind, which acts as natural ventilation. Indoors, on the other hand, pollutants from both indoor and outdoor pollutants are able to build up in poorly ventilated spaces. Furthermore, architecture from past decades was designed with tight seals and limited airflow, a well-intentioned attempt to keep outdoor pollutants from entering buildings that also keeps pollutants trapped inside.
- Indoor sources of air pollution. We most frequently discuss the environmental and health implications of outdoor pollution sources, such as emissions from automobiles and waste products from manufacturing processes. However, a significant source of pollution affecting IAQ (indoor air quality) comes from inside the building.
Indoor Sources of Air Pollution in Canada’s Schools and Offices
There are many sources of indoor air pollution in classrooms and offices. Though the exact makeup of a building’s indoor air pollution is largely dependent on the specifics of what happens inside that building, these are some of the most common sources:
- Cleaning chemicals. Cleaning fluids (even ones labeled as environmentally friendly) and air fresheners linger in the air in droplet form long after cleaning takes place. Though these chemicals are essential for cleaning and sanitation, they decrease air quality and can cause harm to our lungs without proper ventilation and air filtration to remove them from the air.
- Printers and copier machines. Printers, copier machines, and other devices that use ink emit large quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Furniture and furnishings. Mass-produced, inexpensive furniture and furnishings also emit high levels of VOCs, such as formaldehyde.
- Building occupants. Humans themselves are a major source of indoor air pollution for several reasons: pollutants naturally result from respiration, shedding of skin cells produce large quantities of particulate matter, and pollutants are brought in from outdoors on clothing and hair.
How Indoor Air Pollution Affects Productivity and Cognitive Function
We usually talk about the effects of air pollution in regards to how it affects our physical health, with the majority of our focus dedicated to its impact on our lungs. However, an established body of research has demonstrated that breathing polluted air has both long- and short-term effects on worker productivity and cognitive performance.
For example, one study from 2016 placed participants in environmentally-controlled office spaces for standard eight-hour workdays. The participants, who were blind to test conditions, were exposed to varying levels of VOCs and CO2 and different ventilation rates on different days. Researchers found that all nine tested domains of cognitive function were better on higher air quality days. On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher on days with higher air quality and 101% higher on days with both higher air quality and better ventilation than on days representative of typical office conditions.
You may have heard of “sick building syndrome,” which refers to the phenomenon of building occupants developing acute health symptoms (such as coughing, sneezing, headaches, and dizziness) due to time spent in a specific building. Sick building syndrome stems from excessive indoor air pollution and also impacts productivity.
Air Filtration Solutions to Increase Productivity and Learning in Offices and Schools
Increasing natural ventilation by opening windows and doors when possible is only a small part of ensuring adequate ventilation to keep students and employees thriving.
Standalone air cleaners and air purifiers can function independently from the HVAC systems, which means that they can be used in areas of buildings where ventilation is poor or where there is a known source generating high levels of contaminants such as art classes or woodshops. However, many air purifiers you can find online or in retail stores falsely promise to deliver HEPA-level filtration, leading you to spend money on air filters with a much lower particle capture efficiency. Be sure to purchase an air purifier with filters labeled as having been tested and certified as HEPA filters.
Also, air purifiers that include both HEPA filters and molecular filters (sometimes referred to as carbon filters) are particularly valuable as they help control gaseous contaminants (VOCs) which have a negative impact on learning. (Read about Camfil’s City M Air Purifier.)
About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions
For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. We firmly believe that the best solutions for our customers are the best solutions for our planet, too. That’s why every step of the way – from design to delivery and across the product life cycle – we consider the impact of what we do on people and on the world around us. Through a fresh approach to problem-solving, innovative design, precise process control, and a strong customer focus we aim to conserve more, use less and find better ways – so we can all breathe easier.
The Camfil Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and has 31 manufacturing sites, six R&D centers, local sales offices in 35+ countries, and about 5,200 employees and growing. We proudly serve and support customers in a wide variety of industries and in communities across the world. To discover how Camfil Canada can help you to protect people, processes, and the environment, visit us at www.camfil.com/en-ca/.
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