Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto
U of T Chemistry News

Professor Jon Abbatt: Looking inside the chemistry of our indoor spaces

September 11, 2018
by Dan Haves

In some parts of the world it is not uncommon to spend 90% of a day indoors, with a commute to and from work often being the only time spent outside during the week. With that in mind, Professor Jon Abbatt believes that we need to be doing much more to examine the air that we breathe inside.

“It has been known for a long time that the concentrations of outdoor pollutants are correlated to negative health outcomes and as a result outdoor air studies have received a lot of attention in the past,” says Abbatt. “But interestingly, concentrations of most molecules that we breathe are considerably higher indoors than outdoors.”

Abbatt co-authored a perspective in Science in which he points out that three of the top 10 risk factors for negative health outcomes on a global scale are associated with indoor exposure. These include air pollution from solid fuels (like wood or coal), tobacco smoking, and ambient particulate matter.


🔈 LISTEN: Professor Jon Abbatt talks about the chemistry of the indoor environment in an interview with Science.


In his perspective, he also notes that it’s not just the activities in our indoor spaces that affect the environment.

“The mere presence of humans affects the oxidative ability of the air,” he writes, adding that “human occupancy can dramatically affect ozone levels.”

Abbatt has been studying the gas-surface chemistry that occurs in the environment for 30 years.

“The indoor chemistry field is gaining a lot of attention in the past few years largely because it is indoors that we receive much of our chemical exposure,” he says.

“The heterogeneous nature of the surfaces, all the way from relatively inert substances like glass to highly reactive surfaces like human skin oils, makes the chemistry complex and interesting.”

You can find out more about the indoor chemistry that Abbatt and his research group are studying by visiting the Abbatt Group research page.