The Effects Of Stale Air On The Brain

Chinmayee Gokhale, Staff Writer

In the first CogFx study conducted in 2015, 24 participants were rescheduled to work at a “green-building”: the Syracuse Center of Excellence for 6 full work days. During the experiment, on different days, the building’s conditions change to mimic that of “conventional” offices with high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and “green” conditions with low levels of VOCs. “Green+” conditions were conditions with increased ventilation. They also changed the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the rooms but kept the other conditions constant, therefore introducing carbon dioxide as a direct pollutant. They were trying to determine what effect the working conditions had on the participants’ cognitive function/scores. What they found was striking. According to the Research For Health page for the study, “Participants scored 61% higher during the Green condition and 101% higher during the Green+ condition compared to when those same participants were in the Conventional environment. CO2 was also found to have a similar effect on cognitive function scores, even at levels previously thought to be benign.” 


The results of this experiment demonstrate how high levels of carbon dioxide in your working environment can significantly decrease cognitive function. But what does this mean for your daily life? Well, as it turns out, the rooms in which we spend the majority of our time: bedrooms, classrooms, and offices, often reach CO2 levels as high as 3000 parts per million (compared to a world average of 412 ppm)! Add this to concerns about global warming- where scientists predict levels to be upwards of 600 ppm- and you’ve got a dangerous bubble of carbon which threatens to lower our cognitive function as an entire species by 10-16%!


As you can see, stale air has a huge impact on scales ranging from your daily life to the evolution of an entire species. An important thing to keep in mind is that we have the ability to change the environment we live in both on a global scale and in terms of the spaces you inhabit on a daily basis. Two important and simple things you can do right now would be to open a window (decreasing levels by more than 50%) and check your indoor ventilation system to make sure it’s working well. Beyond the issue of stale air, you should also remember to: take a deep breath, wash your hands, stay home, and stay informed.