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.
My experience is that the biggest issue with sick buildings is VOC’s that continously off gas. The most common in my experience is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde exposure has increase in recent decades as we use more manfacutred products and we seal building more tightly to conserve energy. During the first energy crisis in the early 1970’s, we sealed commercial building. We quickly realized we over did it and code requires commercial building to have one air exchange every hour. We didn’t learn from our mistakes and we sealed homes up so well it was taking 10 to 20 hours to have just one air exchange. Only very recently did we update residential building codes to require one air exchange every 3-hours. But homes have more sources of pollution than an office building so we should require more air exchanges not fewer. Formaldehye keeps on giving. I live in a home built in 1963. The original partical board resulted in room concentrations of formaldehyde of 115 parts ber billion(ppb). California recommends a home not exceed 7 ppb. This was whne the material was 46 years old. The prior occupants had health issues that are consistant with exposure to formaldehyde exposure. My own health improved after the removal of this partical board. The formaldehyde concentration is so low, I am no longer able to even detect it. This doesn’t mean that the formaldehyde is zero but it does mean it is likely 10 ppb or less. I have made many families healthier just by identifying the sources of formaldehyde in their home and removing them. In one case it was a bookcase made by a grandfather. It was simply moved from next to the son’s bed to the living room. The mom reported the son is off all his asthma meds for the first time since the bookcase was placed next to his bed. It is difficult to make the connection because it takes time typically a couple months to a couple of years to experience the negative health impacts depending on the concentration of formaldehyde the duration of the exposure and the frequency of the exposure. I would be happy to share more info if you would like to educate your readers on residential indoor air quality issues. In the meantime the best thing people can do is open their windows daily. Residential indoor ari is always going to be more unhealthy than outside air, unless there is a toxic spill outside your window.