Wearing deodorant or peeling an orange can pollute office air04/10/2019
Wearing deodorant or peeling an ORANGE ‘can pollute office air and cause workers to suffer with fatigue and headaches’
- Scientists rigged four open-place offices with thousands of sensors
- Chemicals emitted by personal products were 10-20 times higher than outside
- Orange compounds mix with ozone to form tiny particles that enter the lungs
Wearing deodorant to the office may contribute to indoor air pollution, research suggests.
Scientists from Purdue University rigged four open-place offices with thousands of sensors to monitor for indoor air contaminants.
They found chemicals emitted by antiperspirants, make-up and hairspray reached levels that are up to 20 times higher than when outside.
Peeling an orange released monoterpenes, which mix with ozone to form particles that may bury inside the lungs, the scientists warn.
Even volatile organic compounds released by breathing were found to linger in the air long after the workers had gone home.
The scientists fear a build-up of air contaminants could trigger fatigue, headaches and irritation of the airways, if offices are not properly ventilated.
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Wearing deodorant to the office may contribute to indoor air pollution (stock)
‘We know poor indoor air quality in office environments can inversely affect the health and wellbeing of office workers,’ study author Dr Brandon Boor said.
‘Elevated levels of indoor air pollutants and stale air can cause fatigue, irritation of the airways and headaches.
‘We want to provide better air quality for office workers to improve their productivity.’
Growing research suggests people and ventilation systems have the potential to ‘greatly impact the chemistry of indoor air’, the scientists wrote.
‘The chemistry of indoor air is dynamic,’ Dr Boor said.
‘It changes throughout the day based on outdoor conditions, how the ventilation system operates and occupancy patterns in the office.’
To find out more, the scientists fitted several offices with indoor sensors, in one of the largest studies of its kind.
‘If we want to provide better air quality for office workers to improve their productivity, it is important to first understand what’s in the air and what factors influence the emissions and removal of pollutants,’ Dr Boor said.
The sensors picked up on how the chemicals, called volatile organic compounds, moved through ventilation systems and filters.
‘We wanted to shed light on the behind-the-scenes role ventilation systems have on the air we breathe,’ Dr Boor said.
Information from the sensors was combined with a highly sensitive ‘nose’, scientifically known as a proton transfer reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer.
Usually used for measuring outdoor air quality, it ‘sniffed out’ compounds on the workers’ breath, ‘personal care products’ and building materials.
Occupancy of workers was assessed by embedding temperature gauges in each of the office chairs.
This revealed occupancy ‘drives the number of air pollutants in the indoor environment’, with chemicals lingering in the air even after the staff went home.
The findings will be presented at the American Association for Aerosol Research Conference in Portland.
‘Our preliminary results suggest people are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment,’ Dr Boor said.
‘We found levels of many compounds to be 10-to-20 times higher indoors than outdoors.
‘If an office space is not properly ventilated, these volatile compounds may adversely affect worker health and productivity.’
The results also showed ozone disappears inside offices when it enters from outdoors.
This is because ozone reacts with other compounds and the vast number of surfaces in a furnished office. It even mixes with monoterpenes to form particles one billionth of a metre.
Ventilation was found to have both a ‘positive and negative effect’. When outdoor air was delivered to the office, it diluted the concentration of pollutants generated inside.
However, it can also bring outdoor pollutants, like ozone, inside.
‘There’s a trade-off there we have to be aware of,’ Dr Boor said.
The scientists hope their research will guide the development of better ventilation systems for offices.
WHAT IS AIR POLLUTION?
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process.
It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production.
The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm.
CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans.
The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.
Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.
SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
What is particulate matter?
Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air.
Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.
Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).
Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture
Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.
Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.
Why are particulates dangerous?
Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads.
What sort of health problems can pollution cause?
According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution.
Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes.
As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution.
Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer.
Deaths from pollution
Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems.
Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed.
Problems in pregnancy
Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.
Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.
For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds.
Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’.
What is being done to tackle air pollution?
Paris agreement on climate change
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.
Carbon neutral by 2050
The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.
They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.
Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.
International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.
No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040
In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.
From around 2020, town halls will be allowed to levy extra charges on diesel drivers using the UK’s 81 most polluted routes if air quality fails to improve.
However, MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.
Norway’s electric car subsidies
The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.
A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient.
Criticisms of inaction on climate change
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change.
The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.
The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.
It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall.
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