See entire March 16, 2011 newsletter

I walked into a building the other night for an art exhibit and my husband turned to me and said “If I were you, I would turn around and leave right this minute.” It was the paint. I brushed it off because I wanted to see the exhibit and not be a party pooper. It was a big mistake and I had to leave quickly once my throat started closing. My throat hurt for several hours and I coughed for several more. I am allergic to one of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in some paints.

Well, lo and behold, a few days later I was doing some research on The Daily Green website and found out about another wonderful feature they provide: Ecopedia – the A to Z of living green. Given my recent experience, I knew it was important that I share it.

Little bit of background on Mrs. Green’s beliefs: One of the very first books I read along the Mrs. Green journey was Greg Horn’s Living Green. It knocked my socks off, blew me away and opened my eyes. My belief systems? I believe people are getting cancer at alarming rates and at younger ages. I believe that kids are being diagnosed with autism in record numbers. I know that I have three friends right now who have cancer and it will take miracles for them to make it. (I also believe in miracles.) And what I believe is that these things are all related to the food we eat, the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, what we drink and what we put on our skin. I think it’s called the environment in which we live.

Now back to sick buildings. Do you know how much time the average person spends at work? Lots. So even though I believe it’s REALLY important to do everything you can to make your home environment healthier, the following information is important to know about your building. So please read what Sally Deneen has to say about sick building syndrome. It’s real, it matters and it’s all part of educating yourself because your life depends on it.

She writes:

You may notice that whenever you’re at work your eyes get watery, your nose or throat get irritated, your skin becomes dry or itchy. You start to get a headache. Fatigue sets in. It’s hard to concentrate. Colleagues complain of similar symptoms. Yet, an odd thing happens: Soon after you leave the building you feel relief.
All are indicators of “sick building syndrome.” That’s a scary-sounding, catch-all term, which simply describes situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that seem linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Complaints may come from workers in one specific room or zone, or they may come from employees throughout a building. One report cited by EPA says up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may prompt excessive complaints related to lousy indoor air quality.

“Sick building syndrome probably originated as a result of the oil embargoes that began in the mid-1970s,” reports the journal Archives of Environmental Health. Buildings erected after that increasingly were built “tight” – with windows that couldn’t open, for instance – to conserve energy. An unexpected consequence: Fungi became trapped indoors, along with chemicals released from cleaning products, ozone from photocopiers, pesticides sprayed by the exterminator, fumes from new carpets, and secondhand cigarette smoke drifting indoors from the ventilation system.  (Mrs. Green’s note:  PLEASE READ THIS AT LEAST TWICE!!)

Often, according to the EPA, problems trace to a building being operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems trace to poor building design or occupant activities. (Mrs. Green’s note: Say what?)

There’s some thought that no one really knows why people get sick; maybe it isn’t the air, but some other reason, like maybe sitting too long in front of a computer (a.k.a. “visual display unit” or “VDU”). One study found increased sick-building symptoms when working at a VDU at least seven hours a day; other studies found an effect after fewer hours, according to the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

To figure out what’s going on, building managers can conduct a walk-through survey to look for obvious issues such as poor cleaning, water damage or overcrowding, then may distribute a questionnaire to employees to get a sense of the extent of the problem.

Solutions can be wide-ranging, including storing paint only in well-ventilated areas and letting new carpets off-gas their airborne pollutants before anyone goes inside the building. Find more solutions at the EPA.
There you have it. I HIGHLY recommend following this link if there is anything else you ever wanted to know about Sick Building Syndrome but were afraid to ask!