Is your office pollution-free?
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New Delhi: You could be polluting your office space, new research suggests. Researchers have been conducting one of the largest studies of its kind in the office spaces of a building rigged with thousands of sensors. The goal is to identify all types of indoor air contaminants and recommend ways to control them through a building’s design and operation.

“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,” says Brandon Boor, an assistant professor of civil engineering with a courtesy appointment in environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University. The data is showing that people and ventilation systems greatly affect the chemistry of indoor air — possibly more than anything else in an office space.

“The chemistry of indoor air is dynamic. It changes throughout the day based on outdoor conditions, how the ventilation system operates and occupancy patterns in the office,” Boor says. The building, called the Living Labs at Purdue’s Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, uses an array of sensors to precisely monitor four open-plan office spaces and to track the flow of indoor and outdoor air through the ventilation system. The team developed a new technique to track occupancy by embedding temperature sensors in each desk chair.

Through use of the Living Labs, Boor’s team has begun to identify previously unknown behaviours of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, such as how ventilation systems transform them and how filters remove them.

A greater number of people in a room also means more emissions of these compounds. “Our preliminary results suggest that people are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment,” Boor says. “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 team also revealed that a pollutant entering from outside, ozone, disappears inside. This is because ozone interacts with other indoor compounds and the vast surfaces of a furnished office.

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