August 19, 2022

Air Quality Monitoring in Shopping Malls and Retail Stores

Indoor Air Quality

Shopping malls may have taken a bit of a hit during the pandemic, but surveys show they’re still a popular shopping and leisure destination for 56% of Americans. Since malls and other retail stores remain a gathering place for people from all walks of life, it’s worth looking into their potential indoor air quality (IAQ) issues. Monitoring air quality in shopping malls and retail stores can benefit customers, retailers, and building owners. 

Read on for our breakdown of:

  • What can cause poor indoor air quality in malls and shopping centers
  • The benefits of monitoring and improving IAQ in retail centers
  • Tools that can help improve the quality of indoor air in commercial buildings

What causes poor air quality in retail stores and shopping malls, and how can that affect employee and customer health?

Shopping malls are home to a wide range of retailers that sell almost everything, including electronics, clothing, food, and furniture. All these different products — coupled with the sheer amount of people that pass through a mall on a given day — can create a potent mix of airborne pollutants that impact the health and comfort of mall staff and customers.

Carbon dioxide:

One of the most common pollutants in shopping malls is carbon dioxide (CO2). Since CO2 comes from exhaled air, it can start to accumulate in crowded malls with poor ventilation or air distribution. Exposure to high CO2 levels has been linked to headaches, dizziness, tiredness, elevated blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. 

Volatile organic compounds:

Another category of air pollution found in shopping malls is a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, nausea, loss of coordination, and irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat. Long-term exposure can lead to an increased risk of some cancers and damage to the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system.

The most common VOCs in malls are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. Benzene and toluene primarily come from leather products, and ethylbenzene and xylenes are emitted from lacquered floors and painted furniture. 

Hydrocarbons, such as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and dichlorobenzene, can also contribute to air pollution in shopping malls. This class of VOCs can come from cleaning products, dry cleaning chemicals, and air fresheners.

Formaldehyde, another VOC, is commonly emitted from textiles (like clothing, cloth furniture, bedding, curtains, and rugs) and toys that are held together with adhesives.

Carbon monoxide:

Carbon monoxide (CO) can also play a role in shopping mall air pollution. This tasteless, odorless gas comes from three main sources: exhaust fumes from enclosed parking areas, fuel-powered equipment of indoor ice skating rinks, and gas stoves in poorly ventilated food courts. CO exposure can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death.

Particulate matter:

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is a type of airborne particle with a diameter smaller than 2.5 microns. (For comparison, a strand of human hair is usually between 50 and 70 microns thick.) Particle pollution from shopping malls is mainly caused by dust particles, which can contain everything from dead skin cells to pollen to dust mites and more. When customers move through the mall, they stir up dust particles into the air where they can be inhaled.

PM2.5 is small enough to get deep into your lungs and even enter your bloodstream when inhaled. Exposure to particle pollution can cause irritation in the eyes and respiratory tract, increased allergy and asthma symptoms, coughing, and difficulty breathing. More severe effects of PM exposure include heart problems and decreased lung function.

Airborne viruses:

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically increased public awareness of the potential for airborne virus transmission, especially in public places like crowded shopping malls. As many have learned over the past two years, good air circulation and ventilation are two of the best ways to decrease the risk of virus transmission in indoor spaces. When shopping malls have poor ventilation, airborne viral concentrations can increase right alongside concentrations of airborne pollitants.

Better Indoor Air Quality, Better Profits?

For customers, visiting a shopping mall is more than just a series of transactions. It’s an experience. That’s why people still go shopping in person instead of making all their purchases online. It’s also why so many in the retail industry have started to focus on providing a safe, fun customer experience.

When malls have poor indoor air quality, it negatively impacts the customer experience. Even stuffy air or bad smells can pose a hazard in shopping malls, causing headaches and aggravating allergy and asthma symptoms. And, customers that aren’t feeling well are more likely to cut their shopping trip short and head home. In a survey of mall shoppers in Hong Kong, 54% of respondents said that poor IAQ makes them less likely to spend money in a mall.

Indoor air quality can also impact the productivity and morale of mall employees. When workers feel under the weather due to exposure to airborne pollutants, they may have a harder time focusing on tasks and providing excellent customer service. This, in turn, can also motivate customers to leave a store without spending money. 

Research also suggests that better ventilation and air quality in retail stores can increase employees' job satisfaction. So, maintaining good indoor air quality may also make mall retail positions more attractive to potential employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the emotional impact of IAQ on the mall experience for both customers and employees. Monitoring and maintaining good IAQ in a shopping mall — and being transparent about your efforts — can go a long way in inspiring staff and shoppers to feel safe spending time at the mall.

Technology To Help Improve Shopping Mall Air Quality

When you’re ready to start cutting down on air pollution in your shopping mall or retail store, one of your first steps can be installing an air quality monitor. Commercial air quality monitors, such as Atmocube, can give property owners, tenants, and customers real-time air quality data to help people feel more confident and safe while spending time in the building. 

Modern IAQ monitoring solutions for shopping centers rely increasingly on smart building management technology. For example, building managers can integrate Atmocube into their building management system, also called a building automation system. That allows the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to automatically adjust airflow and ventilation depending on current air quality levels in the building. Air filtration systems and commercial air filters can be used with indoor sensors to further improve IAQ.

In addition to monitoring particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds, the Atmocube app calculates a building’s Airborne Viral Transmission Index (AVTI). The AVTI uses carbon dioxide, fine particulate matter, and humidity data to measure a building’s current risk for spreading airborne viruses. By freely providing this information to the public, shopping malls can increase their value to consumers.

In conclusion… 

Shopping malls still play a significant role in everyday life for many Americans. By consistently and publicly monitoring and improving mall air quality, shopping malls may provide an elevated customer experience and increase profits. Modern monitoring solutions, combined with smart building technologies, are an essential part of creating a healthy and comfortable shopping environment both for customers and employees.

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