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Washington, USA – Do you feel sluggish at work? Poor ventilation and pollution can play a role.

A new study by scientists at Harvard University has found that air quality in an office can have a significant impact on employees’ cognitive functioning, including reaction times and the ability to concentrate. </ P "We do a lot of research on pollution exposure outdoors, but we spend 90 percent of our time indoors," Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, research fellow and lead author of the paper published in Environmental Research Letters on Thursday, told AFP. </ The limited number of previous indoor studies focused on measures like thermal comfort and satisfaction rather than cognitive outcomes, he added.

Cedeno Laurent and colleagues designed a study that included 302 office workers in six countries (China, India , Mexico, Thailand, the United States of America and the United Kingdom) over a period of one year.

All participants were between 18 and 65 years old, worked in an office building for at least three days, and had a permanent job in the office.

Their jobs were Equipped with an environmental sensor to monitor the concentrations of fine dust 2.5 micrometers and smaller, PM2.5, as well as carbon dioxide, temperature and relative humidity in real time.

To carry out the cognitive tests, the participants received a tailor-made app her cell phone. You were asked to run the tests at specified times or if the sensors detected PM2.5 and CO2 levels that fell below or exceeded certain thresholds.

The CO2 concentrations serve as a proxy for the ventilation levels. The concentrations outdoors are around 400 ppm (parts per million), while the upper limit for indoor spaces is 1000 ppm.

There were two tests. The first required staff to correctly identify the color of the displayed words that expressed a different color.

This assesses cognitive speed and the ability to focus on relevant stimuli when irrelevant stimuli are presented.

The second test involved simple addition and subtraction with two-digit numbers to increase cognitive speed and working memory The results showed that an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 resulted in a decrease in response times of about one percent for both tests and a decrease in accuracy of more than one percent.

As Frame of reference: Outdoor PM2.5 levels in the US capital Washington were 13.9 micrograms per cubic meter on Thursday, compared to 42 micrograms per cubic meter in New Delhi, according to the IQAir tracking site.

With respect to C02, an increase of 500 parts per million (parts per million), which is not an unusual variation, resulted in a decrease in response times of more than one percent and a decrease in accuracy t of more than two percent in both tests.

Research comes as US Congress is ready to pass an infrastructure package, and Cedeno Laurent argues that now is the time to start designing energy-efficient, high-performing buildings that provide the right level of ventilation and air filtration.

While previous studies have shown that prolonged exposure to PM2.5 inflames the central nervous system and crosses the blood-brain barrier to cause long-term neurodegenerative diseases this is the first to have a short-term impact, he added.

Opening a window is one, said Cedeno Laurent. If the outside air quality is not good, upgrading the building’s filtration systems or installing high quality portable air purifiers are good ideas.