Oftentimes, poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is associated with potential health issues — and rightfully so. But, while looking at the adverse health effects, you'll also need to look at how poor health impacts the economy.

One of the best studies to date on quantifying potential health and productivity benefits from providing good indoor environmental conditions — IAQ, thermal and lighting — was conducted by William Fisk, head of the Indoor Environment Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and his colleagues. 

Their findings reflect an analysis of a large number of earlier studies.

See Table 1 for a summary of the findings.

Fisk et al. concluded: "Improving air quality would not only lead to significant reductions in illness but would have a direct positive impact on worker productivity. … The potential direct increase in office workers' performance was estimated to range between 0.5 percent and 5 percent."

Table 1
Potential Annual Health Care Savings And Productivity Gains From Improving Indoor Environments (Fisk and Rosenfeld 1997).
Source of Productivity Gain Potential Annual Health Benefits in U.S. Potential U.S. Annual Savings on Productivity Gain (1996 $U.S.)
Reduced respiratory disease 16 to 37 million avoided illnesses $6 to $14 billion
$23 to $54 per person
Reduced allergies and asthma 10 to 30 percent decrease in symptoms in 53 million people with allergies and 16 million people with asthma $2 to $4 billion
$20 to $80 per person (with allergies)
Reduced sick building syndrome symptoms 20 to 50 percent reduction in symptoms experienced frequently by 15 million workers $10 to $30 billion
$300 per office worker
Improved worker performance from changes in thermal environment and lighting Not applicable $20 to $160 billion
They also estimated the annual economic costs of common respiratory illnesses (reported in 1996 dollars):
  • 180 million lost workdays
  • 120 million additional days of restricted activity
  • $36 billion ($140 per person) in health care costs
  • $70 billion ($270 per person) total cost.
The ASHRAE Journal published a summary of this study and Fisk et al.'s findings as a part of a six-part series on the relationship of indoor air quality to health, comfort and productivity.