CO2 and its Influence on Our Well-Being

The term ‘climate crisis’ has been the focus of media coverage not just since Fridays for Future (F4F). In this context, CO2 emissions are described as a significant driver of a changing climate. The fact that CO2 not only affects our environment, but also the health and well-being of each individual, becomes clear in this article.

We look at the meaning and purpose of CO2, what dangers can arise from a higher CO2 concentration, how its concentration can be lowered indoors, and how it can be detected in almost any personal living environment using a smart tool.

What is CO2?

CO2 or carbon dioxide is a natural component of the air. The outdoor air currently consists of an average of 78 vol. % (volume percentage) nitrogen (N2), 21 vol. % oxygen (O2), 0.93 vol. % argon (Ar), 0.038 vol. % carbon dioxide (CO2) and 0.006 vol. % other gases. CO2 is an odourless and non-flammable gas. For example, it is exhaled as a by-product of human cell function (5.0 vol. %).
Along with the other gases, CO2 makes the greenhouse effect as we know it possible. In moderate amounts, CO2 is responsible for the life we have known for many millennia. In particular, in the context of photosynthesis, plants ensure that (excess) carbon dioxide from the air is used for energy production or plant growth. Plants produce oxygen, which is released into the air and which we ultimately need to breathe/survive.CO2 is therefore integrated in a meaningful cycle – in balanced quantities. Industrialisation and urbanisation have dramatically changed the situation around the globe. CO2 emissions have increased significantly and CO2-binding structures such as forests have been and are being systematically destroyed. Due to the serious impact humans have left with industrialisation, the average CO2 value rose from 0.028 vol. % to today’s 0.038 vol. %.

Effects of CO2 on Mental and Physical Well-Being

The negative effects of a lack of CO2 utilisers are mainly evident indoors. Due to the (prolonged) stay of many people in (small) indoor spaces, the CO2 content increases, which is why more frequent ventilation is required to exchange the “stale” air.

The decrease in oxygen concentration and increase in CO2 concentration and odour pollution due to evaporation in closed rooms make for poor air quality. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating and struggles with decision-making are typical effects on people.People who spend a lot of time in offices often suffer from sick building syndrome (SBS). This term covers non-specific complaints ranging from watery eyes and irritated mucous membranes to itchy skin and headaches. However, the causes have not been fully understood yet. The increased concentration of pollutants in indoor spaces itself is not sufficient to explain the symptoms. Personal factors and feelings of the affected persons also play a role in SBS that should not be underestimated.

Health Consequences of a Permanently Elevated CO2 Concentration

The question that arises is which level of CO2 concentration can lead to serious health consequences. In a measurement carried out by the environmental agency of Düsseldorf (Germany) in 2010, the CO2 concentration in a classroom was analysed over the course of the day as an example. It was found that neither the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (0.038 vol. %) nor the limit value for hygienically safe CO2 concentrations in indoor air (Pettenkofer number) of 0.1 vol. % CO2 or the air hygiene value according to DIN 1946-2 of 0.15 vol. % is reached in the classroom over a longer period of time.

A lack of ventilation can cause the CO2 concentration in indoor spaces to rise to 10 times that of the outside air, which can lead to the symptoms described. Paralysis symptoms only occur at a CO2 concentration of 9 vol. %, while a concentration of 20 vol. % will lead to immediate death. In any case, the CO2 concentration indoors should be kept low to prevent health issues. Regular ventilation is considered a simple and very effective solution.

In addition, rising outdoor CO2 levels lead to increased indoor CO2 levels in buildings. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic increased sensitivity to air composition, but it has also increased the trend towards more monitoring of indoor CO2 concentrations.

Other consequences of increased CO2 concentrations:

- Decrease in satisfaction and concentration of groups of people
- Absence and absenteeism of students or workers at school and at work
- Prolonged stay in rooms with a CO2 concentration between 2,000 and 3,000 ppm increase the risk of stress and secondary diseases
- Promotion of chronic and systemic inflammation
- Health effects on infants and children in the growth and development phase, as they breathe in more air in relation to their body weight
- 66% of classrooms in Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and Sweden have a room quality that does not meet the health standards of the respective countries
- Reduced cognitive performance- Reduced of sleep quality- Increase in respiratory diseases- Influence on reaction times and precision when working

CO2 Concentration and COVID-19

Dr. Zhe Peng from the UFZ (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research) considers CO2 monitoring a practical and cost-effective way to counteract COVID-19 contagion to a certain extent.

If the CO2 level in a gym dropped from 2,800 parts per million (ppm) to 1,000 ppm, the risk of COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 25%.This principle can be transferred to all institutions that are embedded in a corresponding work- or leisure-related environment. 

Measuring and Controlling CO2 Concentrations

The inability of humans to (accurately) measure the respective CO2 concentration in the air sometimes requires some kind of external sensory organ. Along with regular exercise and a healthy diet, it could contribute to a person's well-being. co2go was developed for this purpose.

co2go is an innovative health companion for everyday use. It is proving to be a reliable CO2 tracker, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mobile sensor provides users with transparent information about the CO2 content in the air. This way, measures can be taken preventively or in an alarming case to ensure the protection of health.

Specifically, co2go offers:
- awareness of CO2 concentration in the air- mobile CO2 tracking at any location- a small, lightweight and compact package that fits in any pocket- no interference with other tracking systems- fast and transparent information