Web Zap*Germs Archive

June 11, 2004

Research Confirms Common-Sense Knowledge About Stale Office Air

Years ago, I worked in an office building in Rosslyn, Virginia -- just across the river from DC -- which was notorious for its terrible air ventilation. (The plate-glass windows were, of course, sealed shut.)

One winter, I learned through the grapevine that many people on a particular floor were coming down with pneumonia and other bad respiratory problems. Soon clipboard-carrying building engineers appeared, bearing instruments to measure and record humidity levels. One day an upper-management guy who actually cared followed the engineers around as they checked air vents in my office. When a HVAC technician couldn't figure out why there was no flow from a particular ceiling vent, the exasperated manager grabbed a chair, wrenched open the vent and pulled out a wad of yellowed paper that some long-gone, sensitive wretch had inserted to block the flow. Well, one tiny mystery solved, I thought.

Supposedly something was eventualy done in terms of increased air flow -- besides that laudatory vent-clearing -- and improved air filtration-purification to make things better, but I don't remember any big change on my floor. I do remember, however, everyone I talked with wishing we could simply open the dodblamed windows.

Now, according to Reuters, researchers from Harvard have confirmed that there can be "a significant relationship between the detection of airborne rhinoviruses [i.e., the common cold!] and the amount of stale indoor air" measured in three Boston office buildings.

The researchers' "DUH" conclusion: "The more outdoor air is pumped into office ventilation systems, the lower the inside levels of viruses that cause the common cold."


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