Is Indoor CO2 Pollution Hurting Our Brain Function?

by | Aug 6, 2014

Vox, a relatively new, data-driven online media outlet, published an article today with a fascinating headline€” “The carbon dioxide trapped in your meeting is making you think more slowly” €” that we thought we would investigate.

Reporter Joseph Stromberg explains, “An emerging body of research is indicating that the high levels of carbon dioxide and other indoor pollutants that we face in poorly ventilated rooms reduces our cognitive performance and decision-making ability.”

A 2012 study found that CO2, which is found in crowded rooms like, say, a business meeting or conference, resulted in poorer performance on decision-making tests. Other tests have shown similar results.

Though the research is all fairly new and developing, it all points in one direction: poorly ventilated rooms  with higher-than-usual concentrations of CO2 and other indoor pollutants appear to negatively impact our brain function. This is consistent with research on air pollution generally, which has found that certain air pollutants are linked to a host of neurological problems.

Dr. Usha Satish, the primary author of that 2012 study, told Vox of their findings, “People had a lot more difficulty taking initiative, staying oriented to a task, thinking strategically and managing information usefully. People’s abilities to make high quality decisions seemed to be compromised.”

Satish et. al., Environmental Health Perspectives. 2012 Dec;120(12):1671-7.

Satish et. al., Environmental Health Perspectives. 2012 Dec;120(12):1671-7.

The reason to care about both indoor and outdoor CO2 pollution, according to Dr. Stacie Propst, executive director GASP, is pretty straightforward. “Human beings do not function well when carbon dioxide levels stray from the optimal and narrow range for life on this planet.”

The next time you’re in a long meeting or workshop and feel like you’re not performing at your best, it’s probably not your imagination. It make be a good idea take a walk and get some fresh air. (Besides, research shows sitting all day is bad for your health and that exercise €” even walking €” improves your overall health and your brain function.)

About Michael Hansen
Michael is Executive Director of GASP. He joined the team in 2013 as communications specialist. He has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network and Clean Water Fund, as well as a member of the Arm in Arm National Core Support Team. Email Michael
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