Air Quality in Restaurants

The Science Teacher, April-May 2006 | Go to article overview

Air Quality in Restaurants


Byline: Lloyd R. Wilson

E-mail Ask the Experts questions to Marc Rosner, department editor; marosner@aol.com (In your e-mail, please include your name, school, and address.)

Question

How does the air quality, specifically the level of air pollutants, in the smoking section of a restaurant compare to air quality in smoke-free restaurants?

Franki Dockens, Elementary Instructional Science Coach, La Porte Independent School District, La Porte, Texas

Answer

Many factors influence indoor pollutant levels. Clearly the number of smokers, the size of the room, and the number of air exchanges in the room will have a bearing on the results of any given study. As researchers and concerned members of the public, we often focus on a single source of pollution and lose a little about the whole picture.

A study (Hyland, Travers, and Repace) from 2004, funded by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute, showed that the average particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less (PM2.5) in smoking areas is 231 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m[sup]3[/sup]), compared to 25 mcg/m[sup]3[/sup] for smoke-free venues. This would suggest that smoking areas are approximately 9 to 10 times as concentrated. For reference, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ambient air standard for acceptable average exposure to PM2.5 is 15 mcg/m[sup]3[/sup] for ambient air.

There are other sources of PM2.5 in the indoor environment, including cooking, fireplaces, and heating systems. Likewise, there are qualitative differences between the health consequences of particles produced from different sources. Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is a source of several hundred indoor pollutants, some of the more commonly described ones being nicotine, benzene (a known carcinogen), carbon monoxide (an asphyxiant, and associated with cardiopulmonary illness), carbon dioxide, particulates (risk factors for respiratory illness and asthma), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, also carcinogens). While particles larger than PM2. …

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