As offices reopen, there’s an important question to ask: Is indoor air damaging your brain?

Now that everyday life seems to be normalizing and the third wave remains dormant at least for now, several companies and organizations have decided to reopen their offices. Of course, the degree of openness has varied from company to company with some personnel required to work from office, some allowed to continue from home and some offered a hybrid arrangement depending on the functions, processes or the industry that a company operates in – in accordance with the guidelines issued by the authorities. From IT giants to banks and financial services to e-commerce firms, many are restoring a part of their workforce to pre-Covid era regular work-from-office routine.

But as we step into the winter season, the familiar air pollution, including indoor pollution once again looms large. Yet, not many of us know that the polluted air can impinge on the functioning of our brain and can even damage it in many ways. Equally important to know is that indoor pollution has been found to be more harmful to us than outdoor pollution. It is also known that the airborne coronavirus can ride on the back of pollution particles and spread much faster and at longer distances in indoor environments with less ventilation. For those required to work from office now, while the switch-over back to office would have been uncomfortable enough, at least for many, the prospects of office indoor pollution impacting their brain as well as productivity, with a much higher risk of coronavirus transmission, must be decidedly frightening. 

Indoor pollution more potent than outdoor pollution

Indoor air pollution has turned out to be a bigger threat to our health than outdoor pollution. Indoor air pollution has the additional hazardous particle load in the air from human activities like smoking or room freshners, paints, polishes and furnishings, carpets, fragrances, mould, bacteria and much more, in addition to the PM particles and VOCs from outdoor air. In fact, it can be up to 10 times higher than outdoor air pollution. In these times of the pandemic, indoor air has been held more responsible for the transmission of the Covid virus than outdoor air.

Sufficient research showing how air pollution damages brain

For the longest time, we have all known that air pollution, whether indoor or outdoor, can play havoc with our respiratory, cardio-vascular and immune systems. But in recent years, there has been a good deal of research bringing out how air pollution can also be detrimental to our brain health leading to a wide range of neurological conditions such as impaired cognitive abilities and IQ levels, short-term memory loss and dementia, autism and related socio-behavioural issues as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, besides others.       

And it is no surprise that the indoor pollution would also cast its shadow over office buildings and the indoor workspaces thereby posing risks to the staff’s productivity within the office premises. Many researches around the globe have also found out how central heating and cooling systems and the humidification devices can be a secondary source of infection if not maintained properly. And the pollutants can come in various forms such as volatile organic compounds asbestos, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, ozone, radon and fine particulate matter. And each of these pollutants can in various ways impact the functioning of our brain. A recent study covering indoor workplace environment in 6 countries including India has found how office pollution has impacted cognitive functioning of their employees. According to Lancelet, nearly 8,00,000 people die every year due to workplace pollution.

High efficiency Air Purification not a luxury anymore

Given the potential health hazards of indoor air pollution, companies must consider suitable indoor air purification systems while also ensuring proper ventilation and implementation of Covid-related protocols within office spaces as they open up.  Air sanitization best practices need to be followed in every public area with a mandate set for building owners. There is a wide variety of air purification or sanitization solutions available today, including few start-ups that have forayed into the space of offering clean air solutions. Using innovative technologies such as high efficiency filtration and ultraviolet light with easy-to-install devices, brands are working towards providing simple solutions which will be effective on a large-scale basis while being environmentally friendly. Air Sanitization solutions are devised to take care of all aspects of air pollution – dust or PM, harmful gases, and microbes such as bacteria and viruses. With air sanitization indoors becoming a necessity, extensive real-time solutions which are affordable, safe and sustainable are the need of the hour. 

As the world returns to normalcy with businesses resuming operations, as usual, combating air pollution both indoors and outdoors should remain as an area of focus for government and the industry of young and developing nations like India. 





Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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