Water Education - Air and Health

Air Pollution in the work place

Given that most people spend about 90% of their time indoors, it is easy to see why air quality has become such an important issue in modern times. Air pollution concerns, though, are not a new phenomenon. The discovery of fire, for example, often made caves difficult to live and work in for early man. More recently, the extensive use of coal made cities, especially heavily industrialized urban areas, unhealthy-air places.

While air pollution in the home is a big problem, the same problem exists at work. One glaring difference, though, is the fact that people at home generally have more control over the pollutants found on their property (at least for those contaminants about which something can be done), as well as means by which to deal with them. At work, the air pollution problem is entirely in the hands of employers, although government agencies and better air quality proponents have been known to affect their behavior in this arena.

Considering that air pollution can not only impact the health of employees but also their productivity and availability for work, many employers have developed a keener interest in establishing cleaner air environments. This “interest” has been further enhanced by the many lawsuits that been launched by people who have been hurt because of air pollution inside work environments.

What kind of pollutants can one find in places of work? Well, that depends on the nature of the business, nonprofit or government agency in question. It has long been established that places that deal with dangerous toxins (manufacturers, auto repair places, chemical plants, hospitals, etc.) pose significant health threats. These places, however, are closely monitored by government agencies (e.g., the EPA and OSHA). Office environments, however, also pose air pollution problems that have been mostly underestimated and less effectively dealt with--probably because of the subtlety of the pollutants involved.

Indoor air pollution is, of course, tied to outdoor air pollution. Because offices are often in or near urban environments, they are subject to the often heavily polluted air in those environments. These include high-ozone levels (especially on hot days), and the chemicals associated with high traffic areas (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, etc.).

Another major source of air pollution in the workplace is tobacco smoke; it alone can involve about 4000 different mostly carcinogenic contaminants. Office environments, though, can also include mold (especially if high humidity or unaddressed water damage exists), radon gas (especially if the work setting is in a basement), bioaerosols (e.g., air-borne germs from sick people or animals), volatile organic compounds (cleaners and disinfectants, air fresheners, dry cleaned clothes, etc.), pesticides (sometimes used irresponsibly in poorly ventilated areas), asbestos (insulation, ceiling tiles, etc.), lead (especially in older buildings), and formaldehyde (pressed-wood furniture, plywood wall paneling, etc.).

Some of the symptoms of indoor air pollution include throat, eye, and throat irritation, dizziness, headaches, sneezing, coughing, trouble breathing, and fatigue. Medical problems resulting can include hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, asthma, heart disease, cancer, and, in extreme cases, Legionnaire’s disease, the flu, measles, etc.

The best measures to decrease air pollution in the workplace include increased ventilation, source isolation, source control, dehumidification, and the use of filters. By far, source removal (such as the banning of smoking) is the most effective approach. Thereafter, a combined strategy (e.g., air purifiers, HEPA air filters, regular cleaning schedules, reduced use of chemicals, etc.) should be utilized; it can help make air at work safer for everyone.

Read Next: Volatile Organic Compounds Sources and Health Effects

What's this? Check "Remember Me" to access your shopping cart on this computer even if you are not signed in.