New research from a survey conducted by Ambius in the U.S. and Canada revealed that 74% of North Americans feel anxious when entering indoor spaces due to potential air quality problems.

The study surveyed 1,000 office workers in the U.S. and 500 in Canada. Of the 1,000 workers in the U.S., almost half reported that they have taken a day off due to the air quality making them ill, compared to only 8% of the workers in Canada. While this is a large difference, the study ultimately revealed similarities between the two counties when it comes to air quality anxiety. And the health risks of poor IAQ are reason to worry.

“The effects of poor indoor air quality can be categorized as long-term and short-term. Long and short-term exposure has been associated with cardiovascular problems, worsening of respiratory diseases (including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer) and mortality,” said Scott Grefsheim, director of product engineering at AprilAire.

According to the EPA, the average American spends 90% of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors.

In Ambius’ survey, nearly three-quarters of workers from both countries reported that bad air quality disrupted their focus, and over 90% of U.S. workers and over 80% of workers in Canada admitted to paying attention to the air quality in their office. The most commonly experienced air quality issues amongst the respondents were poor air circulation (82%), dust (79%), smell of smoke (44%), poorly cleaned surfaces/carpets (66%), smell of chemicals (51), lack of indoor plants (55%), and bugs as pests (37%).

Worldwide, air pollution is a major concern. On top of causing headaches, dizziness, congestion, poor air quality is also responsible for deaths. In Massachusetts, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 2,780 deaths a year, according to a July 2022 study done by Boston College’s Global Observatory on Planetary Health.


Improving Air Quality

Improving indoor air quality consists of a few key parts: purification, humidity control, and radon mitigation, Grefsheim said.

“Just one cubic foot of air can have more than 30 million air pollutants,” he added.

Purification is the removal of particle pollution (also known as particulate matter, including PM2.5 and PM10 or dust, pollen, bacteria, and animal dander), Grefsheim said. Installing whole-house air purifiers and fresh air ventilators “can directly remove concerns caused by the presence of respirable particulates in the air.”

Humidity control is an essential component to improving IAQ, as dry air supports virus growth and causes wood to splinter, Grefsheim said.

“Damp air is a hotbed for mold and causes wood to warp. Balance is key,” he said. An increase of RH, say 40-60%, increases health and wellness as it reduces viruses’ ability to transmit “and acts like an immunity booster for our nose and throat to maintain a strong response against them.” Additionally, balanced humidity prevents the proliferation of other health concerns such as mold, spores, dust mites, and bacteria.

When it comes to radon mitigation, Grefsheim said, it’s all about reducing the risk of lung cancer.

“Standard radon reduction systems are usually effective within 24 hours and maintain low levels as long as the fan is operating,” he said.

Testing is the only way to ensure whether or not a building has a radon issue, since the gas is colorless and odorless. With radon tests and mitigation fans, “you can have peace of mind that your home is protected,” Grefsheim said.

“Controlling conditions and removing known air pollutants like particulate matter, dust, pollen, VOCs, and radon can dramatically improve the quality of the air that we breathe to give us greater health, virus protection, fewer allergens, more productivity, and better sleep.”