Carbon Dioxide Impact on Productivity and Health

Carbon Dioxide Impact on Productivity and Health
Elizabeth Armstrong

Elizabeth Armstrong

Oxygen is one of my favorite elements. Life will cease to exist without this unseen gas as people and other animals thrive on its presence. Oxygen tends to partner up with carbon where the resulting carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide may be deadly to life as we know it. There is much to learn from what may be mysteriously hidden from view.

People and the green life forms have a mutually beneficial relationship that involves oxygen and carbon. People breathe in the oxygen, it moves throughout your body, dances with other elements, and is released in combination with carbon as carbon dioxide. The chlorophyll-laden green life take in the carbon dioxide and, in an orchestrated movement among elements is released as oxygen. The symphony continues as long as green is present; such as trees.

What happens when you remove the trees from the equation? Like when you clear a piece of land and build a structure that becomes filled with children? People tend to spend about 90 percent of their time in indoor environments. Scientific inquiry reveals that on a typical day in a school classroom, the carbon dioxide concentration my start at 600 parts per million (ppm). During the course of the day, the levels of this hidden, atmospheric gas increase to 2,836 ppm and may reach 4,181 ppm.

Parts per million simply means increasing concentrations. Picture a gallon of water and you add about a tablespoon or two of the crystalline, pink lemonade concentrated granules. The water becomes flavorful and nutritious. How about if you add a cup or two of the granules into the gallon of water? The flavor and intensity of the lemonade experience changes. Now imagine the experience of drinking the intense lemonade all day and every day for about a month.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that 1,000 ppm as the maximum threshold limit where continuous exposure to carbon dioxide has negative health impacts. However, severe hazardous health outcomes have been found at levels from 2,000 to 5,000 ppm. I wish you could see my facial expression as I noted this fact.

Research indicated where work performance is reduced, absenteeism is increased, and the cost of your health care increases with long term exposure to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. You may recognize mucus and respiratory problems. You may have difficulty breathing; experience headaches and dizziness; become tired; unable to concentrate or pay attention to task; and feel restless. Symptoms include sweating, tingling feelings, and your blood pressure may become elevated with an increased heart rate. Pay attention if you begin to have visual and hearing challenges. Extreme impacts include coma, convulsions, and death. Have you or a child complained of any of these challenges?

During stressful and increased physical activities, more oxygen is taken in and more carbon dioxide is released by animals. I can only imagine the conditions that occur in a school gymnasium during a basketball game.

I remember the day of getting in line to drop off my kids at school. Little did I know that there was a fog of hazardous greenhouse gasses accumulating as the automobiles burned fossil fuels when they slowly paraded around the school. The car then reached the building’s front door, stopped to let the young’un(s) exit, and took off to spew the toxic gas that ushers those who enter into the front door.

All is not lost since there are solutions to the indoor air quality hazards. There are different types of equipment that measure the carbon dioxide concentrations found indoors that may be discovered through research or consulting with an expert. The problem may be with the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems (HVAC) that are outdated or not adequately sized in relation to the operating space. Sewer vents and furnace exhaust pipes may be releasing chemicals into the air around the building in question. Cars, buses, landscape equipment, or other fossil fuel combustion engine machinery may be releasing greenhouse gases close to the building. In addition, cigarette smoking impacts air quality when smoke mixes with the building’s indoor air.

My favorite solutions to combat this invisible risk are to plant many trees and gardens. Add a passive solar heating greenhouse to the building to increase the educational experience.

The 21st century introduces many challenges that must be addressed due to increased levels of air pollution. There are benefits to paying attention to the environment where you and children spend most of their time. Being informed allows you to be part of the solution and proactive in your health and well-being.

Elizabeth Armstrong, Ph.D., is a science instructor, author, and business owner. Her Blog: Her website: The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author.

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