When the air inside a building is filled with pollutants, workers who spend the majority of their days there can end up very sick. Perversely enough, new and renovated buildings may actually have the worst air because they are sealed up tight for the sake of energy efficiency — which also seals the pollutants inside.
The issue is becoming so common that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now thinks that as many as one out of every four new or renovated buildings in the United States may be making people sick.
There are essentially three different types of workplace illnesses caused by indoor air pollution: building-related diseases, sick building syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity.
A building-related disease is a distinct illness that can be traced back to a specific problem inside a building. For example, there is a type of bacteria that can get into vents, water fountains and cooling towers which causes Legionnaires’ disease among those exposed. Similarly, cancers like mesothelioma can often be traced back to asbestos exposure in a building. Since these are known ailments with identifiable causes, they are considered building-related diseases.
Sick building syndrome, on the other hand, has no discoverable link between the building and the physical illnesses that are being reported by workers — but workers are quite clearly sick. In order to qualify as a “sick building,” at least 20 percent of the workers have to complain of symptoms that go away again once they’re away from the building. Symptoms include things like tiredness, fatigue, drowsiness, headaches, sinus congestion, cold-like symptoms, wheezing and gastrointestinal problems.
Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a somewhat controversial topic, and it doesn’t enjoy a consensus among medical professionals about its actual existence. Sufferers believe they have developed an extreme sensitivity to commonly-encountered chemicals, like those in cleaning fluids, synthetic carpet fibers and plastics. Symptoms can be severe, including migraines, burning skin pain, joint pain, heart palpitations and more.
Anyone suffering from one of these three issues related to their workplace should discuss the situation with an attorney. Legal claims involving poor indoor air quality can be complicated and difficult to pursue — but they are far from impossible, although it may be necessary to pursue a claim against a variety of defendants, such as the architect and contractor involved in the building design to the company that’s supposed to keep the workplace clean.
Source: ww.consumer.healthday.com, “Sick Building Syndrome: Is Your Office Making Your Sick?,” Chris Woolston, accessed March 15, 2017
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