Personal CO2 cloud: laboratory measurements of metabolic CO2 inhalation zone concentration and dispersion in a typical office desk setting


Inhalation exposure to pure and metabolic elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has been associated with impaired work performance, lower perceived air quality, and increased health symptoms. In this study, the concentration of metabolic CO2 was continuously measured in the inhalation zone of 41 subjects performing simulated office work. The measurements took place in an environmental chamber with well-controlled mechanical ventilation arranged as an office environment. The results showed the existence of a personal CO2 cloud in the inhalation zone of all test subjects, characterized by the excess of metabolic CO2 beyond the room background levels. For seated occupants, the median CO2 inhalation zone concentration levels were between 200 and 500 ppm above the background, and the third quartile up to 800 ppm above the background. Each study subject had distinct magnitude of the personal CO2 cloud owing to differences in metabolic CO2 generation, posture, nose geometry, and breathing pattern. A small desktop oscillating fan proved to be suitable for dispersing much of the personal CO2 cloud, thus reducing the inhalation zone concentration to background level. The results suggest that background measurements cannot capture the significant personal CO2 cloud effect in human microclimate.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6


  1. 1.

    Satish U, Mendell MJ, Shekhar K, Hotchi T, Sullivan D, Streufert S, et al. Is CO2 an indoor pollutant? Direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120:1671–7.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Allen JG, MacNaughton P, Satish U, Santanam S, Vallarino J, Spengler JD. Associations of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposures in office workers: a controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124:805–12.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    MacNaughton P, Spengler J, Vallarino J, Santanam S, Satish U, Allen J. Environmental perceptions and health before and after relocation to a green building. Build Environ. 2016;104:138–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Allen JG, MacNaughton P, Cedeno-Laurent JG, Cao X, Flanigan S, Vallarino J, et al. Airplane pilot flight performance on 21 maneuvers in a flight simulator under varying carbon dioxide concentrations. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2018.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Wargocki P, Wyon DP, Sundell J, Clausen G, Fanger PO. The effects of outdoor air supply rate in an office on perceived air quality, sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms and productivity. Indoor Air. 2000;10:222–36.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Zhang X, Wargocki P, Lian Z. Human responses to carbon dioxide, a follow-up study at recommended exposure limits in non-industrial environments. Build Environ. 2016;100:162–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Fisk WJ, Rosenfeld AH. Estimates of improved productivity and health from better indoor environments. Indoor Air. 1997;7:158–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Fisk WJ, E. P, Member ASHRAE. How IEQ affects health, Productivity.

  9. 9.

    Klepeis NE, Nelson WC, Ott WR, Robinson JP, Tsang AM, Switzer P, et al. The national human activity pattern survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2001;11:231–52.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    McBride SJ, Ferro AR, Ott WR, Switzer P, Hildemann LM. Investigations of the proximity effect for pollutants in the indoor environment. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 1999;9:602–21.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Klepeis NE, Gabel EB, Ott WR, Switzer P. Outdoor air pollution in close proximity to a continuous point source. Atmos Environ. 2009;43:3155–67.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Long CM, Suh HH, Koutrakis P. Characterization of indoor particle sources using continuous mass and size monitors. J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2000;50:1236–50.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Nazaroff WW, Weschler CJ. Cleaning products and air fresheners: exposure to primary and secondary air pollutants. Atmos Environ. 2004;38:2841–65.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Bhangar S, Adams RI, Pasut W, Huffman JA, Arens EA, Taylor JW, et al. Chamber bioaerosol study: human emissions of size-resolved fluorescent biological aerosol particles. Indoor Air. 2016;26:193–206.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Licina D, Tian Y, Nazaroff WW. Emission rates and the personal cloud effect associated with particle release from the perihuman environment. Indoor Air. 2017;27:791–802.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Licina D, Nazaroff WW. Clothing as a transport vector for airborne particles: Chamber study. Indoor Air. 2018;28:404–14.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Tang X, Misztal PK, Nazaroff WW, Goldstein AH. Volatile organic compound emissions from humans indoors. Environ Sci Technol. 2016;50:12686–94.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Liu S, Li R, Wild RJ, Warneke C, de Gouw JA, Brown SS, et al. Contribution of human-related sources to indoor volatile organic compounds in a university classroom. Indoor Air. 2016;26:925–38.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Corsi RL, Siegel J, Karamalegos A, Simon H, Morrison GC. Personal reactive clouds: Introducing the concept of near-head chemistry. Atmos Environ. 2007;41:3161–5.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Rim D, Novoselec A, Morrison G. The influence of chemical interactions at the human surface on breathing zone levels of reactants and products. Indoor Air. 2009;19:324–34.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Persily A, de Jonge L. Carbon dioxide generation rates for building occupants. Indoor Air. 2017;27:868–79.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Melikov A, Kaczmarczyk J. Measurement and prediction of indoor air quality using a breathing thermal manikin. Indoor Air. 2007;17:50–9.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Pantelic J, Rysanek A, Miller C, Peng Y, Teitelbaum E, Meggers F, et al. Comparing the indoor environmental quality of a displacement ventilation and passive chilled beam application to conventional air-conditioning in the Tropics. Build Environ. 2018;130:128–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Pantelic J, Webster T, Heinzerling D, Paliaga G. IoT tools for assessing building operation. ASHRAE J. 2018;60:73–5.

  25. 25.

    Ghahramani A, Pantelic J, Vannucci M, Pistore L, Liu S, Gilligan B, et al. Personal CO2 bubble: context-dependent variations and wearable sensors usability. J Build Eng. 2019;22:295–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Laverge J, Spilak M, Novoselac A. Experimental assessment of the inhalation zone of standing, sitting and sleeping persons. Build Environ. 2014;82:258–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Brohus H, Nielsen PV. Personal exposure in displacement ventilated rooms. Indoor Air. 1996;6:157–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Pantelic J, Sze-To GN, Tham KW, Chao CYH, Khoo YCM. Personalized ventilation as a control measure for airborne transmissible disease spread. J R Soc Interface. 2009;6:S715–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Tham KW, Pantelic J. Performance evaluation of the coupling of a desktop personalized ventilation air terminal device and desk mounted fans. Build Environ. 2010;45:1941–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Pantelic J, Tham KW, Licina D. Effectiveness of a personalized ventilation system in reducing personal exposure against directly released simulated cough droplets. Indoor Air. 2015;25:683–93.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Licina D, Melikov A, Pantelic J, Sekhar C, Tham KW. Human convection flow in spaces with and without ventilation: personal exposure to floor-released particles and cough-released droplets. Indoor Air. 2015;25:672–82.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Licina D, Pantelic J, Melikov A, Sekhar C, Tham KW. Experimental investigation of the human convective boundary layer in a quiescent indoor environment. Build Environ. 2014;75:79–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Gupta JK, Lin C-H, Chen Q. Characterizing exhaled airflow from breathing and talking. Indoor Air. 2010;20:31–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Arens EA, Zhang H, Kim D, Buchberger E, Bauman F, Huizenga C, et al. Impact of a task-ambient ventilation system on perceived air quality. 2008.

  35. 35.

    Melikov AK, Kaczmarczyk J. Air movement and perceived air quality. Build Environ. 2012;47:400–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Schiavon S, Yang B, Donner Y, Chang VW-C, Nazaroff WW. Thermal comfort, perceived air quality, and cognitive performance when personally controlled air movement is used by tropically acclimatized persons. Indoor Air. 2017;27:690–702.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Rudnick SN, Milton DK. Risk of indoor airborne infection transmission estimated from carbon dioxide concentration. Indoor Air. 2003;13:237–45.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Wargocki P, Seppanen O, Andersson J, Boestra A, Clements-Croome D, Fitzner K, et al. Indoor climate and productivity in offices. How to integrate productivity in life cycle costs analysis of building services. REHVA Guidebook. 2006.

  39. 39.

    Gao Y, Zhang H, Arens E, Present E, Ning B, Zhai Y, et al. Ceiling fan air speeds around desks and office partitions. Build Environ. 2017;124:412–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Liu S, Lipczynska A, Schiavon S, Arens E. Detailed experimental investigation of air speed field induced by ceiling fans. Build Environ. 2018;142:342–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Lipczynska A, Schiavon S, Graham LT. Thermal comfort and self-reported productivity in an office with ceiling fans in the tropics. Build Environ. 2018;135:202–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was funded by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) under interagency agreement no. GX0012829 with the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The authors wish to acknowledge the following members of GSA’s Wellbuilt for Wellbeing Group is a multidisciplinary research project team (GSA Contract # GS-00-H-14-AA-C-0094) consisting of the following members: Kevin Kampschroer, Judith Heerwagen and Brian Gilligan of GSA. Esther Sternberg, Perry Skeath, Casey Lindberg, and Matthias Mehlof the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing. Bijan Najafi, Javad Razjouyan, Hyoki Lee, and Hung Nguyen of the Baylor College of Medicine Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP). Sudha Ram, Faiz Curim and Karthik Srinivasian of the University of Arizona INSITE Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics. Kelly Canada of LMI Inc. Priya Saha, Rebecca Goldfinger-Fein, Alicia Darbishire, and Mills Wallace of the Federal Occupantional Health Service. Davida Herzl, Reuben Herzl, Melissa Lunden, Nicole Goebel, and Scott Andrews of Aclima Inc.

This research was also partially supported by the Republic of Singapore’s National Research Foundation through a grant to the Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS) for the Singapore-Berkeley Building Efficiency and Sustainability in the Tropics (SinBerBEST) Program.

Author information




Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jovan Pantelic.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pantelic, J., Liu, S., Pistore, L. et al. Personal CO2 cloud: laboratory measurements of metabolic CO2 inhalation zone concentration and dispersion in a typical office desk setting. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 30, 328–337 (2020).

Download citation

Further reading