Air quality inside homes worse than office buildings, study suggests

A new study from Texas A&M University of Public Health suggests the air quality inside homes may be worse than the air quality inside office buildings. 

Researchers published their study in the journal Atmosphere after studying indoor air quality and health outcomes for people who have been working remotely during the COIVD-19 pandemic.

Part of the study included measuring indoor air quality in both offices and homes in 2019 and 2020 and then looking at the health outcomes during that time period. Researchers used an air quality monitor to collect data on air temperature, relative humidity, concentrations of a particular matter and volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs. 

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They then had participants complete a survey where they ranked the prevalence of symptoms like dry, itchy or watery eyes, stuffy nose and dry or irritated skin on a scale ranging from not experiencing symptoms to having them every day.

Results showed the fine particulate matter concentrations were significantly higher in the participants’ homes than in their offices, and the home levels were greater than the standard for a healthy work environment. Results also showed that VOC concentrations were higher in homes compared to offices; however, the VOC concentrations in both places were well below the limit set by health standards. 

The majority of employees in the study also reported higher frequencies of symptoms while working at home, according to the university.

Researchers noted that indoor air pollution is often linked to building materials and household activities. They can include VOCs from carpet and furniture, paints and other chemicals as well as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and mold.

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They said prolonged exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to adverse health effects from headaches and dry eyes to cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. They add that significant work has gone into improving office building indoor air quality because of these possible outcomes. 

But with the percentage of people working remotely growing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists believe home indoor air quality can now be considered a workplace health issue. 

The university hopes its findings will lead people to improve home indoor air quality, such as opening windows. They also advise companies to provide air purifiers to remote workers. 

"Taking steps to improve indoor air quality in both conventional office buildings and home offices will likely become a growing area of study for public health researchers and employers looking to ensure health, safety and productivity," the university said in a statement

This story was reported from Los Angeles.