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Office air quality may affect employees’ cognition and productivity

A study published in Environmental Research Letters points out that the air quality inside an office can have significant impacts on the cognitive function of employees, including response times and the ability to focus. Furthermore, it can also affect workers’ productivity. The research was conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Over a year, 300 office workers across six countries (China, India, Mexico, Thailand, UK and US) were surveyed, working in a variety of fields such as engineering, real estate investment, architecture and technology. The study found that increased concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and lower ventilation rates were associated with slower response times and reduced accuracy on a series of cognitive tests. The researchers noted that they observed impaired cognitive function at concentrations of PM2.5 and CO2 that are common within indoor environments.

“Our study adds to the emerging evidence that air pollution has an impact on our brain. The findings show that increases in PM2.5 levels were associated with acute reductions in cognitive function. It’s the first time we’ve seen these short-term effects among younger adults,” said Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health and lead author of the study. “The study also confirmed how low ventilation rates negatively impact cognitive function”.

Overall, the study suggests that poor indoor air quality affects health and productivity significantly more than we previously understood.

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Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health