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 general public at large. NIOSH has seen investigations involving indoor toxins dramatically grow. For example, in 1980, complaints made up only 6% of all cases. This climbed to 42% in 1992, and now represents 80-90% of the agency’s current caseload. In about 25% of the 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 bacterial air pollutants in modern, sealed office buildings.
Chemical-based indoor toxins from building materials can come from floor coverings, contact cement, cleaning agents, formaldehyde from glues and particle board furniture, acetone from paints, caulking and perfume, pesticides and every day dust. Building systems are simply not designed to vent out fumes from these substances, according to the EPA, who sets standards for controlling indoor air pollution and tries to protect workers from the following:
Sick Building Syndrome: In some office buildings, high amounts of these 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 is one 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.
There are many old New York buildings that are loaded with harmful indoor toxins. New York and California are combating this growing problem with tax breaks for developers who meet certain “green” building standards and both have passed legislation requiring publicly funded buildings to be greener. See examples of two New York landmark buildings here.
Seeger Weiss, New York personal injury attorneys, recommends that if you feel sick and suspect that your office has indoor air pollution, first find out if others are experiencing the same symptoms. Formal investigations need at least two people suffering before action can commence.