How Office Air Makes You Dumber

Poor ventilation is among the problems, study says
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 2, 2015 8:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Yeah, that air you're breathing at the office? It's likely diminishing your brain power by more than half unless it's kept environmentally clean, according to a new study. Researchers came to this conclusion by placing 24 professionals—including engineers, designers, and architects—in a specialized office for six full days, Ars Technica reports. Really a lab at Syracuse University, the office gave researchers the tools to alter levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on a daily basis. Participants then took a cognition test each afternoon that rated nine kinds of mental functioning, including information usage, strategy, and crisis response. "The results are striking," says lead researcher Joseph Allen.

Participants' scores rose an average of 61% on so-called "green" days (when VOCs were lower) and 101% on "green+" days (which had low VOCs and "a high outdoor air ventilation rate," the study says). Allen says ventilation, CO2, and VOCs were all capable of affecting the scores. The CO2 findings are "particularly important," an analyst explains. "For decades, nearly everyone had thought that carbon dioxide at the concentrations encountered in buildings had no effects on people." Sadly, typical buildings are designed to trap conditioned air in order to save energy—which raises VOC and CO2 levels. That's because CO2 and VOCs come from everyday things like air fresheners, furniture, flooring, leaky furnaces, and paint, Popular Science reports. (Bad air quality might spoil your workout, too.)

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