Masks are more popular than ever thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. While individuals are still figuring out ways to make masks properly fit without ear pain, others are concerned with air quality, and hopeful that masks can make a difference.
Meanwhile, pollution rates are on the rise, in part due to higher consumerism which causes more transportation emissions, as well as the more extreme phenomena due to climate change. With summer wildfires, the air quality can decrease significantly, forcing people to remain indoors. While individuals may think that they are safer at home, a new study from Texas A&M University suggests that your office may have better air quality than your home.
Background: Measuring Air Quality
To measure air quality properly, scientists look at ambient air concentration, usually a ratio of pollutants to air particles. The higher the ratio, the more polluted the air is. For the U.S., the air quality is measured in the Air Quality Index (AQI), a scale running from 0 to 301 and higher. The index allows people to better understand how bad the air is in their area and whether they should stay inside to avoid having problems.
Poor air quality can cause a lot of negative health symptoms, including fatigue, headache, dizziness, sinus congestion, allergies, frequent illness, and cardiovascular diseases. For individuals with pre-existing respiratory issues, having excellent home air quality is essential to help their health. Many try to boost their home air quality by using filters or plants (like the snake plant) to lower pollutants in the air. But these things may not be enough, as a new study suggests.
Analysis: Home Vs. Office
Researchers at Texas A&M University wanted to better understand the differences in air quality between home and office. So, from 2019 to 2020, they measured the air quality in both places, as well as monitored the individuals who used those spaces for health outcomes. All the subjects of the study lived in single-family homes that contained centralized air conditioning. All the subjects also didn’t smoke or work with hazardous items causing pollution. This made the study more objective in looking at the effects of air quality.
From their measurements, published inAtmosphere, the researchers found that the home air quality was significantly poorer than that of the office, with an increase in pollutants. Thankfully, both areas were well below the air quality standards for beneficial health. While monitoring the individuals, the researchers found more instances of health problems when working from home than in the office, including respiratory issues and illness.
Outlook: The Home Needs Some Help
Because the pandemic has driven more people to work from home, there is more at stake to having good air quality at home. There are many things that cause bad air quality including poor ventilation, cooking with gas, mold or mildew, smoking, and even pet dandruff. Thankfully, many of these problems can be fixed with renovation or behavioral changes. It’s important to make sure air quality is at optimal levels, as it provides a safe place in case things get worse outside.
Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/