January 9, 2022
The smells we associate with newness and cleanliness — a fresh coat of paint, a new carpet, lemon-scented disinfectant — are not as harmless as they may seem. These odors are caused by the release of gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many common building materials and household products.
What are airborne chemicals (VOCs)?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) is an umbrella term used to describe any organic chemical that evaporates easily at room temperature. These chemicals are released or “off-gassed” into the indoor air we breathe.
VOCs are emitted from thousands of products from paints and varnishes to cleaning products to furniture and carpets. We measure VOCs collectively rather than individually as total VOCs (TVOCs).
Of the 82,000 chemicals in commercial use, 85% do not have any available health data.
Why measure VOCs?
While VOCs aren’t acutely toxic, they have a cumulative effect on health and comfort. They are linked to a variety of health problems from minor eye irritation to eczema flare-ups, allergies, asthma, and headaches. Long-term exposure has also been known to contribute to the risk of developing serious illnesses.
The cost of poor indoor air quality
Study after study has shown that good ventilation, or fresh outdoor air brought inside is a critical determinant of health. The buildup of indoor air pollutants has been shown to increase absenteeism, decrease productivity, and drive symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome.
A Harvard study estimates that the cost of doubling ventilation rates would be less than $40 per person per year (even less with energy efficient ventilation systems). While the productivity benefits are $6,500 per person per year.
While research by the World Green Building Council suggests that better indoor air quality alone can lead to productivity improvements of 8 to 11%.
Track toxins and chemicals indoors
A foundational step toward reducing the VOCs in your indoor air is knowing that they are present. Awair provides alerts when Total VOCs are high, allowing you to assess and rectify the situation.
Office temperature is one of the most contentious issues in the workplace environment. When some employees are feeling the heat, others shiver, but either way productivity and collaboration decline.
As many students, teachers, and administrators return to in-person learning this fall, there are mixed feelings about health and safety. School districts have come under heat time and time again for building issues, particularly in underfunded communities. For instance, a 2020 report from the United States Government Accountability Office found that “one-third of public schools were estimated to have inadequate heat, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.” Since COVID-19 spreads most rapidly in poorly ventilated areas, there is urgency amongst school leaders to improve indoor air quality and, therefore, reduce the spread of lingering airborne viruses.
Crowded classrooms, meetings in closed door conference rooms, working from your makeshift WFH office with poor ventilation - all of these scenarios can cause high CO2 and significant decreases in cognition and productivity.What is carbon dioxide?Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas that is measured in parts per million (ppm). A by-product of our metabolic process – we add CO2 into the air every time we exhale – it’s often used as an indicator of adequate building ventilation.