By Maeda Riaz • January 14, 2012•Writers in Residence
Do you have a drab, depressing-looking office? White walls, desk covered with papers, no color to speak of? Well, in addition to sprucing up your office décor, adding some aesthetically pleasing items such as plants, a sleek air purifier, and a beautiful salt lamp can also help detoxify your office and promote good health.
Indoor Air Pollution
Most Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors.[i] Given that most lawyers work anywhere from 1700 to upwards of 2000 hours a year,[ii] much of this time is spent inside an office building. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that indoor air pollution is often worse than levels found outside.[iii] In fact, it can be two to four times more polluted than outdoor air.[iv] Combine poor air ventilation with indoor pollutants and it’s easy to understand why this is so.
Common sources of pollutants are from office equipment, wall paint, furniture, carpets, cleaning products, and air fresheners. Printers and copiers release particles into the air[v], and wall paint, cleaning products, and air fresheners release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.[vi] VOCs are chemical compounds that vaporize, or become gases, at normal room temperatures.[vii] Even if your office has not been freshly painted, low-level toxic emissions may be given off from painted walls years after being applied.[viii] Furniture made out of pressed wood products often contain glues and adhesives that off-gas formaldehyde, another VOC.[ix]
If you’ve ever experienced headaches, itching or burning eyes, nose or throat irritation, nausea or fatigue, or respiratory flare-ups like asthma, you may chalk it up to the long hours and stress of work. Although this may very well be the reason for your symptoms, your indoor air environment may be exacerbating the problem. Even if you’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced any of these symptoms, the EPA still recommends people make efforts to improve indoor air quality.[x]
Tips to Clear the Air
While all this information may seem overwhelming and frightening, there are a few simple changes you can make to create a healthier office environment. The first thing you can do is to eliminate some of the sources of pollution in your office. Maybe you’re something of a neat freak? Do you have your own air freshener and cleaning wipes in your office? The best thing you can do is get rid of them! They’re likely laden with chemicals and causing you more harm than good. Switch to non-toxic and eco-friendly products and inquire with your building’s maintenance department what types of cleaning products are used and urge them to make the switch as well.
Second, you can filter and purify your air by bringing plants into your office. NASA has studied the efficacy of certain plants and their air filtering abilities. Among the most favorable for removing toxins and releasing oxygen are:[xi]
- Areca palm
- Lady palm
- Bamboo palm
- Rubber plant
- Dracaena “Janet Craig”
- English ivy
- Dwarf date palm
- Ficus alii
- Boston fern
- Peace lily
You may also want to consider buying a small air filter for your office. Nowadays, there are many options to choose from. If you can, choose one that has a high-efficiency particulate arresting, or HEPA, filtering system. Some can be quite loud, so noise level is something to consider when shopping around.
If indoor air pollution wasn’t enough to worry about, there is another invisible, often-overlooked culprit – electromagnetic fields, or EMF, for short. Even if your desk is neat and tidy, most likely there’s a jumble of electronic wires lurking somewhere. Take a look behind or under your desk. Is there a mass of wires and cables? Perhaps a power strip plugged to capacity?
EMF are invisible lines of force that exist anywhere there are electronic devices and objects.[xii] This means your computer, your Blackberry or cell phone, and anything else plugged into an electrical source or operating wirelessly.
The health effects of EMF on our bodies is still being studied, but it is believed that EMF disrupt and interfere with the cellular functions of our bodies.[xiii] Experts on the President’s Cancer Panel recommend that more research be done on possible links between EMF and cancer.[xiv] With that in mind, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?
Tips to Reduce EMF Exposure
One way to protect yourself from EMF is to buy a radiation filtering screen for your computer and a radiation chip or shield cover for your smartphone. An even easier fix is to sit back from your computer screen, at least two to three feet if you can. The strength of fields decreases rapidly with distance. And don’t forget to unplug any unused electrical devices. Even objects that are turned off can emit an electric field if plugged into an electrical outlet.
You should also consider placing a salt lamp on your desk near your computer. Salt lamps to protect against invisible electromagnetic fields? It may sound a bit New Age, but when turned on, salt lamps heat up and release health promoting negative ions that bind to harmful pollutants in the air. They look like glowing stones and can add a decorative element to your office.
Living with technology is a reality of daily life. Although we may not be able to control our wider environment, we can take charge of our own office space. If nothing else, I hope this post got you thinking about your health and how you can improve it. Even small changes can make a difference and your path to wellness should be carried out at a pace that works for you. Thanks for reading, and check back next month for some more health and wellness tips!
[i] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, Indoor Environments Division, “An Office Building Occupant’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality,” (Oct. 1997), http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/occupgd.html.
[ii] National Association of Law Placement, “Number of Associate Hours Worked Declines,” (Feb. 2011), http://www.nalp.org/assoc_hrs_feb2011.
[iii] Supra note 1.
[iv] Dr. Myron Wentz & Dave Wentz, with Donna K. Wallace, The Healthy Home 52 (Vanguard Press 2011).
[v] Supra note 1.
[vi] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality,” (Sept. 2008), http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/careforyourair.html.
[vii] U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “An Update on Formaldehyde,” (1997 Revision), http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/725.html & http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html.
[viii] Sophie Uliano, Gorgeously Green, 75 (Harper Collins 2008).
[ix] Supra note 7.
[x] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality,” (last updated Nov. 29, 2010), http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html.
[xi] Supra note 8, at 167.
[xii] National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, “Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power,” (June 2002), http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emf/.
[xiii] Supra note 4, at 44-45.
[xiv] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008-2009 Annual Report, President’s Cancer Panel, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” Appendix I, A-55, http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/index.htm (2010).