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The Impact of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Air pollution is all around us, no matter where you live. In fact, 90 percent of the world’s population breathes polluted air, which kills around 7 million people each year.

The problem isn’t just outside either. The amount of pollution indoors can be up to 5 times higher when compared to city air outdoors, as the already polluted air is drawn in and mixed with indoor pollutants such as dust and chemicals.

Air pollution is causing many short-term and long-term effects on our health, ranging from mild irritations to life-threatening illnesses. In this article, we examine the negative effects poor indoor air quality is having on our bodies, as well as reveal the key ways you can improve indoor air quality immediately.

How is Poor Indoor Air Quality Affecting Our Health?

The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime, or roughly one-third of their entire life.

While you might not associate the air in your office with significant health risks, these are exactly what it can cause. The longer your exposure to indoor air pollution, the greater these risks become.

Let’s look at some of these most common health conditions below, ranging from mild to severe.

Eye, Nose, and Throat Irritation

Some health impacts may appear soon after a single or recurring exposure to a pollutant. These include eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. These initial symptoms are often temporary and treatable. If the source of the pollution in the office can be located and removed, for example, then these short-term symptoms will often disappear before progressing into more serious health conditions.

Examples of sources within the office that can cause an immediate (yet often non-serious) reaction include chemical cleaning products, dust, or mold.

Asthma and Other Respiratory Illnesses

When ozone and particulate matter are drawn into an office through the air conditioning system, they can cause serious respiratory irritations and illnesses. These include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), reduced lung function, inflammation and damage to the lung lining, permanent injury to the lungs, and increased susceptibility to pneumonia.

Studies have found that even at low concentrations, indoor air pollution is responsible for causing a wide range of respiratory conditions that can negatively affect a person’s health and quality of life.

Heart and Cardiovascular System Conditions

While we often associate respiratory illnesses with air pollution, studies have also shown the significant effects pollution can have on the cardiovascular system. This is because it has been associated with atherosclerosis, which is the major underlying pathology in most cardiovascular illnesses.

Indoor air pollution can harm blood vessels by narrowing and hardening them, thus increasing the chances of a blood clot. Because the heart is beating quicker to move the blood that isn't flowing properly, blood pressure rises, putting a person at risk of a heart attack or stroke. It can also have an effect on the heart's electrical system, resulting in irregular cardiac rhythms.

Finally, breathing indoor air pollution even has the ability to alter the structure of the heart. Experts say these changes are similar to those observed in the early phases of heart failure.

Reproductive and Central Nervous System Dysfunctions

Air pollution can generate a variety of neurological illnesses as a result of nervous system inflammation, oxidative stress, activation of microglial cells, protein condensation, and cerebral vascular-barrier abnormalities.

Poor indoor air quality has also been strongly linked to lower fertility rates, thus pointing to the negative effects it has on the human reproductive system. As a result, the European Union and Brazil have air quality regulations in place for IVF labs in order to increase the live birth rate.


The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has named fine dust as a first-grade carcinogen. This is because of its significant concentration of heavy metals, as well as the fact that pollution from vehicle-produced smog particles and sulfur oxides is sufficient to cause cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, 11 percent of adult lung cancer deaths are due to exposure to carcinogens from indoor air pollution, most commonly due to using kerosene or solid fuels for indoor energy needs. The tiny particles are said to build up in the lungs and change how cells replicate. This then leads to DNA damage, which can cause cancer.

There is also evidence that nasopharyngeal and laryngeal cancers are related to indoor air pollution.

How to Improve Air Quality in Your Office

While the health impacts of poor indoor air quality are alarming, there are some things you can do in your office to reduce these harmful effects for you and your employees.

1. Increase Ventilation

Opening the windows on a regular basis can let fresh air in and stale air out. To improve air circulation within the office, fans should also be operated regularly.

2. Use Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Many common cleaning products contain VOCS (or volatile organic compounds), which are toxic to our health. When stocking your office with cleaning products, look for those which contain EPA’s "Safer Choice" label or the Green Seal. Alternatively, use safer alternatives such as vinegar, soap, or baking soda.

3. Regularly Maintain Air Conditioning Units

Regular maintenance allows filters and air ducts to be cleaned, preventing the build-up of dust and other harmful allergens from circulating back into the air you breathe. It also ensures your office’s air conditioning or filtration systems are working correctly.

4. Add Plants to Your Space

According to NASA's Clean Air Study, potted plants can contribute significantly to healthier indoor air. Living walls, such as our Model Z, contain hundreds of air-purifying plants, making them a highly effective solution for removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air we breathe.

Stop the Effects of Poor Office Air Quality

One of the easiest ways you can combat indoor air pollutants naturally is to install a living wall in your office. The Model Z living wall features hundreds of living plants and offers up to 87 percent more purified air. It assembles in less than an hour and can fit anywhere in your office — plus, no plumbing or drainage is required.

Help stop the negative health effects of poor air quality within your office. Contact the living wall experts at Zauben to see how you can get started.


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