Why should we care about outdoor air when we spend 90% of our time indoors?

Marie Bannister

Marie Bannister

June 3, 2021

Should we care about outdoor air quality, when we spend 90% of our time indoors? Especially in a workplace environment such as an office, healthcare facility, and so on. The answer is of course, yes. 

Not only does outdoor air quality incorporate the obvious issues of global warming and the detrimental impact this has on our environment, but, simply put; outdoor air gets trapped indoors. 

Bad air outside, could mean bad air inside. Or a lot of work for your HVAC system to counteract this. But how do you know it's getting it right? If ventilation is flooding fresh air (we hope)  indoors to help employees go about their day in a healthy environment, but the air outside is bad, how do we ensure the good stuff is being circulated and the bad stuff is being pumped out?

It is now possible to monitor both the outdoor and indoor air with the Airthings for Business solution. The Airthings business dashboard can incorporate the outdoor air pollution that matters most: PM, NO2, O3, CO and SO2. So what are these contaminants? Read on for a full outdoor air breakdown⬇️dogoutcar

Particulate matter (PM) 

Particulate matter is a range of particles of dust, dirt, and liquids that become suspended in the air. Some of these are large enough to see, like smoke, smog, or soot. 

However the most harmful are smaller, invisible particles1. Helpfully, particulate matter is categorized by size. PM2.5 for example has a diameter of less than 2.5 microns. PM2.5 (also known as fine particles) can get into your lungs and even your bloodstream2.  PM1 would therefore be smaller particles than Pm2.5. Simply put, the healthier the air, the fewer PMs in the workplace. Read everything we know about PM here ->  

Particular matter size guide:PM Illustrations_PM size

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

There are many nitrogen oxides, and nitrogen dioxide is a pungent, irritating gas which causes the most concern. It is known to cause pulmonary edema, an accumulation of excessive fluid in the lungs3.

The environmental effects of NO2 is highly publicized, amongst other things it interacts with the air to create acid rain4. Not to mention playing a role in creating smog and haze above cities5

NO2 is formed during high temperatures created during the combustion of fuel. Emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment are all responsible for polluting the air with NO26. smell_cloud_1

Ozone (O3)

We’ve all heard about the ozone layer; a shield around the globe that absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet light. But there is also ground level ozone, which can damage the lungs7

Chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) create this ground level ozone according to the EPA8.  Pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and more which chemically react in the presence of sunlight can cause this.


Carbon monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide (CO) not to be confused with carbon dioxide co2, is released when something is burned and therefore cars, trucks and other vehicles or machinery that burn fossil fuel is the biggest contributor to co in outdoor air. 

Breathing air with a high concentration of CO reduces the amount of oxygen that can be transported in the blood stream to critical organs like the heart and brain9. Luckily, there is a lot of legislation out there to help ensure CO pollution levels stay low outdoors.clouds

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

Lastly, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) you may have heard of from the news when volcanoes erupt as it is released into the air. Usually however, the burning of burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities is the largest source of SO2 in the atmosphere10. 

Not only can the human respiratory system be affected by high SO2, but acid rain, and harming tree and plant growth is also part of SO2’s repertoire11

Interestingly, SO2 can impact  particulate matter (PM) pollution too.  High SO2 in the air can lead to the formation of  other sulfur oxides (SOx) which can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. It is these newly formed particles we have mentioned above, that add to PM pollution12. It is therefore heavily regulated.


Buildings consume 40% ​of the world's energy13: waste less & reduce pollutants

You may have noticed an emerging theme amongst these pollutants in our air is that a lot of them have been caused by human activities. They are created from the burning of fossil fuels, driving of petrol and diesel vehicles and more. Thankfully, many of these pollutants are heavily regulated to protect people and the environment, and reducing unnecessary energy consumption could have a positive impact too. 

Airthings is now able to offer outdoor air quality monitoring through our partnership with Airly. “By leveraging air quality data, Airthings is helping businesses around the world improve energy efficiency in buildings while ensuring a healthy and productive indoor environment,” said Øyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings.

“Together with Airly, we go one step further by integrating outdoor sensors into our existing IoT solution, allowing our customers to have an even greater control of the air quality in their buildings through an all-in-one solution.”  
-Øyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings. 

Both the outdoor and indoor air quality data will be available via the Airthings dashboard and API. Building owners and facility managers can optimize ventilation systems based on occupancy trends, environmental conditions outside the building, and other live and historical data—cutting unnecessary energy costs. At the same time, providing full visibility into real-time air quality data gives tenants assurance about the indoor spaces where they spend time and helps them plan their commutes and other outdoor activities, avoiding potential air hazards.

To learn more about our partnership with Airly, read the press release here→


1. blf.org.uk/support-for-you/air-pollution/types
2. epa.gov/region1/airquality/pm-human-health.html
3. britannica.com/science/air-pollution/Fine-particulates#ref1083422
4. epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2
6. epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/ozone-generators-are-sold-air-cleaners
9. 10. 11. 12. epa.gov/so2-pollution/sulfur-dioxide-basics#what%20is%20so2
13. cordis.europa.eu/article/id/123119-energy-reduction-in-public-buildings-learning-to-lead-from-the-front

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