Productivity, mental, and physical health at risk because of air quality

in October 13th, 2021

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We're now indoors 90% of the time, relying on indoor ventilation to clean and circulate air — but is that good enough? A new study says not, revealing how poor indoor air quality degrades our cognitive abilities, making it harder to concentrate or process information.

Unlike previous studies focused on ventilation efficiency and comfort, this study analyzed indoor exposure at real-world concentrations to fine particulate matter (PM2.5, from dust and indoor smoke) and carbon dioxide (CO2, from outdoor sources such as car exhaust), and found that higher PM2.5 and CO2 concentrations are associated with a decline in cognitive performance. And it doesn’t stop there:

  • Children in the U.K. exposed to PM2.5 experienced higher rates of mental health problems at age 18. This study followed ~2,000 children and found that more exposure air pollutants increased rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
  • Another study saw rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s decrease with cleaner air. Previous reports also confirm that long-term exposure to pollutants such as PM2.5 leads to a build up of Alzheimer related brain plaques.
  • A recent study found that even low concentrations (below federal standards) of air pollution increased risk of illness and death. That risk increases for people living in lower-income areas as they suffer greater exposure and disproportionate risk from that exposure, prompting researchers to call for tighter EPA standards.

So how do we mitigate our risk?

  • Ventilation filters with a MERV 11 or higher rating can trap bacteria and viruses while also filtering harmful contaminants such as smoke, pollen, and smog.
  • Portable air purifiers with a high efficiency (HEPA) filter can replace the air every 15 minutes. Allow fresh air from outside if your area shows a good Air Quality Index rating that day.
  • And, carbon dioxide sensors can keep you informed of air quality. If the CO2 number is above 600, consider wearing a mask — especially since low air quality increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Such methods could one day be required to promote better air quality in all public spaces. A group of 39 scientists published an academic journal calling on government officials to set regulations that improve workplace standards, such as upgraded ventilation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to follow suit and implement air-quality standards across all businesses (they previously only had requirements for health care facilities). And, of course, the EPA encourages public participation through comments on proposed rules and reporting violations.

🎬 Take Action

Check out the FAQ section and additional recommendations from the CDC on how to inform your COVID-19 safety precautions based on a building’s ventilation system.

Resource Center:

  • New York Times (Where we found this story) 5 weeks old | 8 minutes long
  • New York Times Experts call for air-quality regulations  5 months old  | 8 minutes long
  • New York Times More on improving indoor air quality 5 weeks old | 14 minutes long
  • AAIC Study on Alzheimer related diseases 2 months old | 11 minutes long
  • Very Well Mind Study on mental health 5 weeks old | 12 minutes long
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Let’s turn this air pollution into an air solution!

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