Because office workers spend so much time indoors, air quality has become a major cause of concern for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the public at large.
NIOSH has seen investigations involving indoor toxins dramatically grow. In 1980, indoor air quality complaints made up only 6% of all cases investigated by the agency. This climbed to 42% in 1992, and now represents 80 to 90% of the agency’s current caseload.
In about one-quarter of the indoor air quality investigation cases, investigators can identify a single specific cause. But more often, the causes of indoor air pollution stem from several sources.
Hazardous Fumes Given off by Building Materials
Indoor air pollution occurs when buildings with poorly designed ventilation systems trap pollutants inside. Scientists have identified more than 1,500 chemical and microbial air pollutants in modern, sealed office buildings.
Chemical-based indoor toxins from building materials can come from:
- Floor coverings
- Contact cement and adhesives
- Cleaning agents
- Formaldehyde from glues and particle board furniture
- Acetone from paints
- Perfume and intentional odorants
- Ordinary dust
The EPA, who sets standards for controlling air pollution has stated that many current building systems are not designed to eliminate fumes from these substances through ventilation systems.
Illness Caused by Indoor Toxins
There are many old New York buildings and buildings in other areas that are loaded with harmful indoor toxins. A lack of planning in design has meant that the EPA has been unable to adequately protect workers from the following:
- Sick Building Syndrome: In some office buildings, high amounts of indoor toxins cause headaches, eye irritation, and other severe health problems in workers. Such health problems are called sick building syndrome or building related illness.
- Workplace Mold: Mold is an indoor toxin that’s currently being identified with the same caution, response and liability concerns as those attributed to lead-based paint poisoning and asbestos.
- Radon Exposure: Radon is a radioactive gas that is another harmful indoor toxin. When radon attaches to dust, it forms particles that can be inhaled in one’s lungs similar to asbestos fibers and can similarly cause lung cancer. Energy-efficient buildings, which keep in heated or cooled air, can trap radon indoors and lead to high concentrations of the gas.
New York, California and other states are combating this growing problem with tax breaks for developers who meet certain “green” building standards and many locales have passed legislation requiring publicly funded buildings to be “greener”.
Indoor Toxin Illness and Injury
When air quality issues or indoor toxins have resulted in illness in office workers of other employees, businesses and employers may be liable for these injuries, particularly if illness is extended or results in disability or death.