Introducting fresh air into a stuffy office
March 10, 2011 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm suffocating at work - is there a way to add oxygen into my office?

I work in an new york city office where there is no fresh air - none of the windows can be opened, and there are enough people in the room that the air regularly smells "unfresh", like it is full of carbon dioxide. Am I imagining this? I often feel like I can't breathe, but this feeling disappears as soon as I step outside. Additionally, as soon as anybody gets sick, everyone else in the office is infected within a week's time.

It's a horrible situation and I'm wondering how to solve it. Do I need an oxygenator by my desk? I can't actually find a product like this so I don't know if it exists. I've started researching air filters but am very confused about all the varieties, in particular the ozone purifiers which seem controversial. Also, I like to be as eco as possible so I was looking at salt fog vaporizers, which seem to ionize the air (what is that?) and humidify it (good) but without an unsanitary tank to clean.

Any feedback would be appreciated. I have one Golden Pothos plant but I don't even think 10 of them would help this situation.

Also, one more question - does anyone know about the legality of this kind of thing? We have a fire exit so the closed windows aren't a fire hazard, but the problem where everyone gets sick constantly seems like a legitimate work hazard, particularly for those of us who are contract workers without health insurance. I know … everyone does it.
posted by ranunculus to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How about some NASA-approved plants?
posted by phunniemee at 4:17 PM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Lack of oxygen is unlikely to be the problem. Long before your oxygen runs low, CO2 builds up to poisonous levels. If you're really running out of air you could bring in some CO2 scrubbers. Early bathyscapes used open trays of various chemicals to scrub the exhaled CO2 and water vapor out of the air.

But I suspect it's even more likely to be water vapor and odor and general fug.
posted by hattifattener at 4:20 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are, I'm sure, plenty of city regulations regarding air circulation in NYC.

Here's New York's Indoor Air Quality page.

I wouldn't be too worried about CO2 levels, but poorly ventilated areas can have other problems, like toxic mold. Not to get you paranoid.. you might just be feeling a bit claustrophobic and it could be psychosomatic.
posted by empath at 4:27 PM on March 10, 2011

does anyone know about the legality of this kind of thing?

what you've described is every call center i've ever worked in. it's not just the air, it's the phones, keyboards, shared bathrooms, shared kitchen space, door handles, etc that cause all the sickness.

for your air quality problem, i think that mother in law's tongue (from phunniemee's link) will grow with minimal direct sunlight.
posted by nadawi at 4:29 PM on March 10, 2011

One of those little desk fountains made a big difference for me - doubly so if you put a small desk fan behind it so the air moves over your fountain and in to your face, triply so if there's a small green plant near them both. I'm not sure the air is actually any more humid or cooler, but the white noise, the greenery and the sight of moving water seems to be enough.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:46 PM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't know the solution for you, but low oxygen can be a problem. We had this in a crowded OLD building in downtown Vancouver. We had our air professionally tested and oxygen was indeed lower than it should be. There was no ventilation system beyond opening windows which could no longer be opened 75 years after the thing was built. You may have the same problem. We had to get the windows opened and open them on a set schedule, because putting in ventilation was considered too expensive. I would suggest finding a way to open that fire exit or some other door regularly to get airflow.
posted by Listener at 5:12 PM on March 10, 2011

I concur with the fan suggestion. I have this small fan on my desk. It's quiet and designed to circulate air in the immediate area without creating unnecessary breeze.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 5:27 PM on March 10, 2011

3rding Mother-in-Law's tongue.
Actually you just reminded me that I want to buy two for my desk at work, so thanks!
posted by carlh at 5:28 PM on March 10, 2011

Additionally, as soon as anybody gets sick, everyone else in the office is infected within a week's time.

This is because everyone wipes their nose or sneezes into their hands, and then touches the same door handles, phone handsets, keyboards, stairway handrails, computer mice, water cooler buttons, etc, etc. Other people then touch the same thing and then touch their eyes/nose/mouth. This transfers the germs directly into your body. It's nothing to do with "lack of fresh air", just wash your hands often (using soap and water is best, but alcohol hand gel is OK too), especially just before you eat, and avoid touching your face at all costs while you're at the office.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:02 AM on March 11, 2011

Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems need periodic cleaning and maintenance. Express your concerns, especially about illness transmission; ask that the HVAC be checked out.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:03 AM on March 11, 2011

I worked in some pretty wretchedly old buildings in SoHo, Hell's Kitchen, etc. I know what you're talking about. Some buildings simply have a only-in-Manhattan "stench". Even Letterman's taping studio has a whiff of it.

You can add plants. In the winter, maybe a humidifier - if your employer allows it. Your best, simplest bet? A USB fan. At least the air will keep moving.
posted by veryblue1 at 6:26 PM on March 24, 2011

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