Friday, January 6, 2012

Indoors: Climate-Controlled Paradise or Toxic Gas Chamber?

Some of my work colleagues are a bit picky about the environmental conditions inside the office. The pickiest of them all is the group that I call "Management".

Management is very sensitive to bathroom odors, so makes a bit deal about using "air fresheners" to reduce the offensiveness of the smell. Management is also sensitive to temperature, and likes to keep the air conditioning set to a nice cool temperature. Opening the windows automatically disables the air conditioning, so Management usually keeps them closed.

Not much research has been done on indoor environments until relatively recently. One of the findings mentioned in this Future Tense program is that the chemicals in many air fresheners react to ozone to create toxic by-products. Most indoor ozone comes from outdoor air but is also generated by some equipment like laser printers. However once these toxic by-products are formed in a sealed indoors environment they tend to hang around for a while.

While these by-products are not being formed in high enough concentrations to cause office workers to suddenly drop dead all over the world, we don't yet know the health effects of long-term exposure to low concentrations of these by-products. For now, the best advise is to take it easy with the air fresheners and open the windows every once in a while.

Source: Indoor ecology - Future Tense - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation):

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