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Environmental Science & Technology

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Volatile organic compounds, human chemical emissions, Indoor air pollution -- Measurement, Isoprene, Carbon dioxide, Stress -- Physiological aspects, Air quality -- Environmental aspects


The human body emits a wide range of chemicals, including CO2 and isoprene. To examine the impact of cognitive tasks on human emission rates of CO2 and isoprene, we conducted an across-subject, counterbalanced study in a controlled chamber involving 16 adults. The chamber replicated an office environment. In groups of four, participants engaged in 30 min each of cognitive tasks (stressed activity) and watching nature documentaries (relaxed activity). Measured biomarkers indicated higher stress levels were achieved during the stressed activity. Per-person CO2 emission rates were greater for stressed than relaxed activity (30.3 ± 2.1 vs 27.0 ± 1.7 g/h/p, p = 0.0044, mean ± standard deviation). Isoprene emission rates were also elevated under stressed versus relaxed activity (154 ± 25 μg/h/p vs 116 ± 20 μg/h/p, p = 0.041). The chamber temperature was held constant at 26.2 ± 0.49 °C; incidental variation in temperature did not explain the variance in emission rates. Isoprene emission rates increased linearly with salivary α-amylase levels (r2 = 0.6, p = 0.02). These results imply the possibility of considering cognitive tasks when determining building ventilation rates. They also present the possibility of monitoring indicators of cognitive tasks of occupants through measurement of air quality.


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