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Stuffy office air dramatically decreases brain function

File photo courtesy: Flickr/Mark Sebastian

File photo courtesy: Flickr/Mark Sebastian

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, November 3, 2015, 6:33 PM - Having trouble concentrating at work? Try opening a window and breathing in some fresh air. A new study suggests stuffy office air can drastically impact a person's ability to work by cutting cognitive function in half.

Lead author Joseph Allen told Ars Technica the results of his analysis are "striking," adding he didn't expect high air quality could double cognitive scores.

Allen and his team conducted a double-blind study of 24 office dwellers. For two weeks, participants spent Tuesday through Thursday in a typical office setting, located inside the Willis H. Carrier Total Indoor Environmental Quality (TIEQ) Lab, part of Syracuse University.  As a 'green' building, which maintains a LEED® platinum-level certification, the building is designed to have good air quality. To maintain its certification it must adhere to strict ventilation guidelines that result in lower carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere, both of which are commonly found in office spaces as by-product from adhesives, vinyl products and dry erase markers.

The lab was used to simulate good air and the 'bad' air typically found in office buildings.

Each afternoon the participants, who were not aware what type of air they had been breathing that day, took a cognitive test.

On average, it was discovered cognitive function doubled on the high air quality days. Test scores were also 61 percent higher when the air quality was high.

For their next study, Allen's team wants to determine if cognitive effects would remain following days of the same quality air or if prolonged exposure to bad air quality leads to health problems.

The paper was published last month in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).

Sources: Flickr | Ars Technica | EHP


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