A few years ago, the dangers of poor air quality were often associated only with conditions of the respiratory system. Today, thanks to hundreds of research studies, we know that living and working in a polluted environment has consequences far beyond the lungs.


Beyond the Lungs: Our Brain

In a new study published by the Harvard School of Public Health and supported by Dr. Joseph Allen, a renowned researcher in the field of air quality, new data is revealed on how contaminated air can affect employee cognition and productivity in companies.

According to José Laurent, lead author of this study, "air pollution has a huge impact on our brain. The findings show that increases in fine particle levels (PM2.5) were associated with acute reductions in cognitive function, being the first time these short-term effects were seen among younger adults".

The study, which lasted more than a year, was aimed at studying the behavior of workers in offices in six different countries, where ventilation indicators were particularly low, at a time when measurements of fine particles were only rising. Thanks to research, it was found that these indicators are closely related to slower response times and poor results in cognitive tests.


Indoor and enclosed spaces are the most exposed places

As the research points out, high concentrations of PM2.5 and CO2 are most frequently observed indoors and in enclosed spaces. However, these particles can also be found outside and penetrate the home and workspaces throughout the day. Having a poor ventilation system, these contaminants remain in the indoor environment, where employees spend most of their time.

To carry out the study, the researchers used environmental sensors to measure the presence of PM2.5, CO2, and humidity, while installing a customized application on the mobile of each employee, to carry out cognitive tests throughout the day. The study rules indicated that tests should only be performed when a significant change in the levels detected by the sensors was evident.

Conclusively, the study revealed that as PM2.5 and CO2 levels increased, cognitive tests reported worse results. Also, as concentrations of both pollutants increased, participants completed fewer questions correctly in the allotted time.


According to Dr. Joseph Allen, current proposals to improve indoor air quality, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, should also be extended to the cognitive function of those who inhabit these spaces. Today, healthy buildings and workspaces are not only essential for preserving health but are also critical in optimizing productivity and job performance.

For further details on the study, please visit: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/office-air-quality-may-affect-employees-cognition-productivity/