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Is your deodorant polluting the office? New study says so

People and ventilation systems greatly impact the chemistry of indoor air - possibly more than anything else in an office space.

Oct 07, 2019, 06.32 PM IST
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A greater number of people in a room means more emissions of these compounds. (Representative image)
WASHINGTON D.C. [USA]: Wearing deodorant, make-up and even breathing has a greater influence over the office space more than you might think as the chemicals emitted from self-care products may elevate pollution levels outdoors, found a study.

These findings will be presented at the 2019 American Association for Aerosol Research Conference in Portland, Oregon.

A team of engineers at Purdue University has showed that people and ventilation systems greatly impact the chemistry of indoor air - possibly more than anything else in an office space.

Moreover, it changes throughout the day based on outdoor conditions, how the ventilation system operates and occupancy patterns in the office.

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The building called the Living Labs at Purdue's Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, uses an array of sensors to precisely monitor four open-plan office spaces and to track the flow of indoor and outdoor air through the ventilation system.

Through use of the Living Labs, the team has begun to identify previously unknown behaviors of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, such as how they are transformed in ventilation systems and removed by filters.

They teamed up with researchers at RJ Lee Group to deploy a highly sensitive "nose" - an instrument that scientists call a proton transfer reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer.

The instrument, typically used for measuring outdoor air quality, helped "sniff" out compounds in human breath, such as isoprene, in real-time. Researchers found that isoprene and many other volatile compounds linger in the office even after people have left the room.

A greater number of people in a room also means more emissions of these compounds.

"People are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment," said Brandon Boor, an assistant professor of civil engineering with a courtesy appointment in environmental and ecological engineering.

"We found levels of many compounds to be 10 to 20 times higher indoors than outdoors. If an office space is not properly ventilated, these volatile compounds may adversely affect worker health and productivity," he added.

The team also revealed that a pollutant entering from outside, ozone, disappears inside. This is because ozone interacts with other indoor compounds and the vast surfaces of a furnished office.

The researchers found that ozone and compounds released from peeling an orange, called monoterpenes, mix to form new, super-tiny particles as small as one-billionth of a meter. The newly formed particles could be toxic because they are small enough to get into the deepest regions of a person's lungs.

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