Invisible But Deadly: Combating Indoor Air Pollution


As technology advances towards more environmentally friendly office machines, the issue of indoor air pollution is finally receiving more attention. While some offices are slowly upgrading to newer models, many workplaces still use older machines. Many of these machines are not often tested for their emissions into the atmosphere of the office while operating- but these emissions can have a serious effect on the air quality of a workplace.

Indoor air pollution, which mainly occurs from the accumulation of unhealthy air particles in the atmosphere of an indoor environment, is a serious issue that receives much less attention than it ought to. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of all deaths occurring from ischaemic heart disease can be connected to indoor air pollution. For example, 4.3 million people die prematurely each year just from pollutants due to cooking with solid fuels.

Thus, how many more deaths each year from the effects of indoor air pollution can be connected to the accumulation of dust particles in an environment? The dangers of air particles in our indoor environments can no longer be ignored.

Invisible but Deadly

According to the EPA, the dangers of microdust are rising in offices and workplaces around the country. This statistic is in spite of new laws and measures to prevent dangerous levels of unhealthy air. In California for example, new indoor air quality laws have recently been introduced. After decades of battling traffic pollution (which infiltrates indoor atmospheres), the state has dealt with drops in air quality due to more fires and introduced further regulations to also account for air quality indoors.

With new, similar measures from other states finally comes more research into the true dangers of indoor air pollutants. The need to reduce air particles being released into an atmosphere by office machines, rather than only combating existing emissions, is also rising. While air purifiers can work to decrease the number of existing air particles in an environment, it is expected to become more efficient to protect those working within an environment to combat air particulates before they are released from a machine into the air being breathed. But for the time being, as few machines are being built to reduce particles released into the air, the need for air purifiers is increasing. 

The effort to reduce particulates in the air must begin within the machines we run daily. It is thus imperative that machines used daily in workspaces are examined to account for any potential effects these machines could have on the IAQ and on workers’ health. 

Small Air Particles

A common misconception is that the largest particles that we can see are the most dangerous. The smallest particles are in fact the most dangerous, blocking airways and getting deep into lungs. These are referred to by their size, often less than 2.5 microns in diameter, as PM2.5. With time and enough accumulation, they can fill up and scar lungs, and even disrupt the heart’s ability to beat properly. Many studies link exposure to these PM2.5 particles with worsened symptoms of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiac arrhythmias, and an increased risk of respiratory illness.

The results are unquestionably deadly. In 2013, over 5.5 million people died prematurely from complications resulting from poor IAQ.

Outdoor air quality continues to be a consideration worldwide, but research into the effects of indoor air pollution on employees and the workplace are largely ignored in comparison. 

Effects on the Workplace

The ability of employees to do their job can be heavily impacted by the quality of the air within the space they must complete tasks. 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), poor indoor air quality is tied to headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation as well as certain diseases. Commonly used machines such as shredders and fax machines are often big offenders in air quality issues inside offices.

That’s why changing out these machines for more “green” options, as an investment in the long-term well-being of your employees, isn’t just the right thing to do- it is rapidly becoming the lawful thing to do. Only California and New Jersey currently have laws addressing IAQ, but more states are beginning to respond with new codes for inspection of schools and other institutions for proper air quality maintenance. 

Common IAQ Risk Factors

The IAQ of a workplace often depends on these factors.

  • Age of the building
  • Location of the building
  • Number of ventilation units or windows
  • Quality of filtration system within building

However, one of the most easily addressed risk factors is to evaluate and update the machines being used in your office.

The California Air Resources Board stated that we “are spending too much time in close, poorly ventilated quarters with old machines with unreviewed, potentially harmful emissions.” They provide a list of air cleaners certified by California for indoor use and as a reference for products to invest in. 

The board also conducted a study to analyze the emissions of laser and inkjet printers. They found that printers are one of the biggest culprits of indoor air pollutants, often emitting ten or more harmful chemicals. Laser printers emit VOCs and large bursts of ultrafine particles which may emit ozone, where inkjet printers have lower VOC/SVOC emissions and much fewer PM emissions

Understanding the risks of these emissions helps to work to replace the machines in a workplace in order to take preventative action against dangerous air particle accumulation. It is important to understand the difference between machines, such as between inkjet and laser printers, as well as to seek replacement machines made to produce fewer air particles without losing efficiency in the process.

Preventative Measures for Clean Air

Examining the machines in use in your workplace is necessary to evaluate the quality of the air in the space.

Products we suggest for steps toward cleaner office air environments:

Dahle CleanTec Shredders are designed to emit fewer air particles, reducing the accumulation of particulates in an enclosed space. The CleanTec line draws awareness to the role of common office machines in indoor air pollution, and are engineered to lower emissions by releasing fewer particles into the air of workplaces.

MBM’s ideal Air Purifiers use ionic technology to reduce the number of particles that have been released into the environment by various machines. Five different performance sizes are offered to accommodate different room sizes, and the machines use a six-stage cleaning system and built-in plasma cleaning technology to help cleanse the air of pollutants.

Fellowes’ Air Purifierssuch as their AeraMax line, are built with a focus on maximum detection of pollutants in indoor environments. The AeraMax uses the True HEPA filter to capture 99.97% of airborne particles from smoke, pet hair, spores, pollen and other allergens, with PlasmaTrue technology for an ionized field aiding in removing air pollutants. The AeraSAfe antimicrobial treatment also provides built-in protection from growing bacteria and fungi on this filter.

To Do

According to the American Lung Association,

-Find out how old machines in your building are

-Check ventilation and placement of furniture especially in tight spaces

-Invest in a carbon monoxide monitor

-Invest in machines which produce fewer particles

-Invest in air purifiers

The good news is that more and more companies are stepping forward with new solutions, and there are more alternatives made than ever to help clean up our air and take care of the planet. The more informed we are, the more we can prevent poor working conditions and ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe at work.

How are you working to ensure a clean air environment for you and your employees? Share your steps to take action in your own workplace below!

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Government procurement, information security and the AbilityOne Program are a few of Natalie's favorite subjects to write about. Like all of us here at Supply Chimp, Natalie has a love for office supplies; laminators, quality paper and good pens are her top picks. In her off time, Natalie enjoys music, singing, movies, being outdoors and volunteering with children.


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