Recent Harvard-Led Study Increases Awareness of the Link Between Indoor Air Quality and Cognition

For building owners or managers, it should be common knowledge that indoor air quality should be a priority for ensuring the safety and productivity of all occupants. After all, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, we spend a staggering 93 percent of our lives indoors (typically 6 percent of which is spent in automobiles), and overlooking the conditions of our indoor environment can have a huge impact on health.


A recent study led by Jospeh Allen, Harvard’s environmental health researcher, in collaboration other scientists from Harvard, SUNY Upstate Medical School, and Syracuse University, and was published in Environmental Health Perspectives in October 2015. It has increased awareness of the hazards of indoor air pollution and the importance of green building strategies.


In the study, researchers monitored the function of 24 professionals who performed their regular desk jobs in a simulated office environment, and administered a test to them at 3pm every day that measured their “higher-order decision making.” The researchers would manipulate this office environment’s indoor air quality and see how it affected the performance of the occupants on the test.


They would both change the levels of ventilation, varying the carbon dioxide levels from 550 parts per million to as high as 1,400 parts per million, and introduce different levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, such as formaldehyde, benzaldehyde, and acetaldehyde. The days with lower levels of carbon dioxide and VOCs mimicked the impact of “green building,” and the days with higher carbon dioxide and VOC levels mimicked the impact of a “conventional office building.”


“On average,” the researchers wrote, “cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day (p<0.0001). VOCs and CO2 were independently associated with cognitive scores.”


These findings corroborate the 2012 study in Environmental Health Perspectives that first elevated concerns about indoor air quality. These results can’t be ignored—indoor air quality has a huge impact on the performance of employees, and ignoring the hazard is not only dangerous but bad for business.


If you’re worried about your own indoor office air quality, contact us for testing at Hawk Environmental. We can determine carbon dioxide levels, VOCs, spore presence, other gases and general office environmental factors such as humidity for any business in Seattle, Tacoma, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond, WA as well as the surrounding cities. Contact us today!

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