Air Quality in Offices


Introduction

According to a number of national organizations, including the American Lung Association, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency, studies have shown that air pollution in our indoor settings, including offices, may be more of a health concern than air pollution outside. Indoor pollutant levels may, in fact, be two to five or more times higher than outdoor levels.

There are three main reasons why indoor air is becoming more of a health concern.

With potentially less fresh air and more time spent indoors, people can be exposed to more pollutants.

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What are indoor air pollutants and where do they come from?

An indoor air pollutant is a substance in the air that may affect the health of office occupants. Pollutants could come from outside of the office, such as an idling car engine or a delivery truck near an open window, doorway, or air handling unit, or from radon entering the building from the ground below.

An air pollutant could also come from inside the office. Some examples of indoor sources might be:

Indoor air pollutants may include:

Chemicals found in some office or personal care products are also potential indoor air pollutants.

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How can these pollutants affect my health?

Breathing air pollutants can lead or contribute to allergies, infections, asthma, and other health problems that involve the lungs, nose and throat. For example, mold and pollen can trigger allergic reactions or asthmatic symptoms in some people.Exposure to other indoor air pollutants, such as high enough levels of carbon monoxide, can result in headaches, nausea, vomiting, brain damage, and even death.

In a poorly ventilated office setting, increased airborne levels of viruses and bacteria can result in higher incidences of respiratory illnesses. Exposure to radon may increase the risk of lung cancer. Exposure to VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) may affect the lungs, brain, and nervous systems.

The possible health effects depend on the amount of pollutant inhaled, the length of time the person is exposed, family history, and age and general health of the person. Senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems may be more sensitive to certain pollutants.

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What can be done to reduce pollutant exposure in the office?

These are actions that you, the employer, or management can take to reduce exposure:

Note: If you are working in a building that houses an industrial type of indoor business (with occupational exposures), The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) standards limit the amount of pollutants to which an employee may be exposed. Call 800-640-0601 for more information.

Where can I get more information about indoor air, ventilation and related topics?

For more information, visit our Indoor Air Quality Resource Guide.

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