People get sick and animal get sick; these are facts that we all know. But do buildings get sick? If you’ve heard the term “sick building” being tossed about, you may be as confused as others. The term doesn’t refer to the building itself, but to the health of the occupants of the building. Employees, residents and visitors all being made sick by the environment contained within a building or house. Here’s what you need to know:
If you live in a home or work in a building that was constructed between 1920 and 1978, you may be exposed to asbestos. This material was commonly used as an insulation material for over 50 years. Though small amounts of asbestos don’t affect most people, breathing large amounts or being exposed on a daily basis can put you at an increased risk for cancer and lung disease. The Consumer Product Safety Commission can provide more information about your potential risk.
Carbon monoxide isn’t the only gas that you should be worried about. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide are also cause for concern. Each of these gases can cause symptoms that mimic the flu. Over-exposure can cause respiratory illness and, in extreme cases, death. Any building that utilizes natural gas as a source of energy should have carbon monoxide detectors in place. Additionally, space heaters and portable air conditioners, used in the home or office, should always be vented.
Many people are sensitive to common cleaners and aren’t aware of it. If you feel persistently sick, have difficulty breathing or are suffering with allergy-like symptoms, consider switching out your cleaning supplies. Harmful chemicals from these cleaners can linger in the air long after cleaning is done. If you know that you’re sensitive to these chemicals, ask your employer to make the switch to more natural products.
Any building that is damp or has leaking pipes is susceptible to mold. People with asthma and allergies are particularly sensitive to mold spores floating in the air. The EPA cautions that homes and buildings should be inspected for mold, particularly if leaks have been discovered. Look closely in dark corners, as mold thrives in damp, dimly lit recesses in buildings, no matter the date of construction.
It’s not often insects themselves that cause a building to be sick, but the pesticides used to kill those insects. To keep insects away from your home, cut away any landscaping that is closer than 18 inches to the siding and store firewood away from the exterior of the structure. Keep food in tight containers and clean up any spills immediately to deter insects from setting up camp in kitchens and cafeterias.
Could your workplace or home be making you sick? It’s a very real possibility. If you’ve got an illness that you can’t seem to shake, you may want to have your home inspected or speak to your employers about having your work place inspected. Your building could be the source of your illness.