People are the ‘dominant source’ of air pollution in an office environment

In one of the largest studies of its kind, engineers have investigated all types of indoor air pollution and recommended ways to control them through how a building is designed and operated. 

The engineers at Purdue University, Indiana, used an array of sensors to precisely monitor four open-plan office spaces and to track the flow of indoor and outdoor air through the ventilation system.

The engineers teamed up with researchers at RJ Lee Group to deploy a highly sensitive ‘nose.’ This instrument, which is typically used for measuring outdoor air quality, helped the engineers to ‘sniff’ out the compounds in human breath in real-time.

The team found that isoprene and many other volatile compounds linger in the office even after people have left the room.

They also found that the greater the number of people in a room, the more emissions of these compounds.

Brandon Boor, an assistant professor of civil engineering said: ‘If we want to provide better air quality for office workers to improve their productivity, it is important to first understand what’s in the air and what factors influence the emissions and removal of pollutants.’

Boor added: ‘Our preliminary results suggest that people are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment.’

‘We found levels of compounds to be ten to twenty times higher indoors than outdoors. If an office space is not properly ventilated, these compounds may adversely affect worker health and productivity.’

The team also revealed that ozone, a pollutant caused by internal combustion engines and power plants, can mix with the compounds released from peeling an orange to form new, super-tiny particles as small as one-billionth of a meter.

These newly formed particles could be toxic because they are small enough to get into the deepest regions of a person’s lungs.

The researchers also believe that chemicals emitted from self-care products such as deodorant, makeup and hairspray may also elevate levels outdoors as they are vented outside by the ventilation system.

In related news, nearly half of workers say their bosses should allow home working to cut their exposure to air pollution during the morning and evening commute.

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