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Office Air Can Contribute to Poor Cognitive Performance

Indoor air can be even more polluted than outdoor air. That’s because office buildings, for example, are often filled with the same pollution that’s outside, as well as the CO2 exhaled from its workers.


A major new study out of Harvard University demonstrates that office air doesn’t just make us unhealthy. This polluted air also slows people down on cognitive tests and makes it easier to get distracted. The more polluted the office air, the worse people performed on tests.


To conduct the study, the research team recruited hundreds of workers from 42 offices around the world. Their average age was 33 years old. Each worker was sent an air sensor, which was placed on their actual work desk. The sensor measured the CO2 and fine particulate matter that the office workers were breathing at any moment. Then, through a smartphone app, these workers were asked to take a cognitive test several times over the course of the year.


The most disturbing finding was that there was a direct relationship between the amount of fine particulate matter in the air and how poorly people performed on mental tests. The more polluted the air, the worse people performed. Researchers even noted that people who were breathing what is considered good air—air that has fine particulate matter below 1,000 parts per million—still suffered cognitive impairment.


The good news is that indoor air quality can be improved. Researchers note that the solution is to bring in more air from outside the building to cut down on CO2, and then to use high-grade MERV13 filters inside the building to help decrease the fine particulate matter. Employers should also ensure that they aren’t housing more employees than the building's planned occupancy levels.


Thanks to Fast Company for the heads-up!