Indoor air quality problems are not limited to homes. In fact, many office buildings have significant air pollution problems. Some of these buildings may be inadequately ventilated. For example, mechanical ventilation systems may not be designed or operated to provide adequate amounts of outdoor air. Also, people generally have less control over the indoor environment in their offices than they do in their homes.
A number of well-identified illnesses, such as Legionnaires' disease
, hypersensitivity pneumonitis
, and humidifier fever
, have been directly traced to specific building problems. These are called building-related illnesses. Most of these diseases can be treated, nevertheless, some pose serious risks.
Sometimes, however, building occupants experience symptoms that do not fit the pattern of any particular illness and are difficult to trace to any specific source. This phenomenon has been labeled sick building syndrome. People may complain of one or more of the following symptoms: dry or burning mucous membranes in the nose
, and throat
; sneezing; stuffy or runny nose; fatigue
or lethargy; headache
; irritability and forgetfulness
. Poor lighting, noise, vibration, thermal discomfort, and psychological stress may also cause, or contribute to, these symptoms.
There is no single manner in which these health problems appear. In some cases, problems begin as workers
enter their offices and diminish as workers leave; other times, symptoms continue until the illness is treated. Sometimes there are outbreaks of illness among many workers in a single building; in other cases, health symptoms show up only in individual workers.
In the opinion of some World Health Organization experts, up to 30 percent of new or remodeled commercial buildings may have unusually high rates of health and comfort complaints from occupants that may potentially be related to indoor air quality.
Three major reasons for poor indoor air quality in office buildings are the presence of indoor air pollution sources; poorly designed, maintained, or operated ventilation systems; and uses of the building that were unanticipated or poorly planned for when the building was designed or renovated.
The most important factor influencing indoor air quality is the presence of pollutant sources. Commonly found office pollutants and their sources include environmental tobacco smoke
from insulating and fire-retardant building supplies; formaldehyde
from pressed wood products; other organics from building materials, carpet, and other office furnishings
, cleaning materials
and activities, restroom air fresheners, paints, adhesives, copying machines, and photography and print shops; biological contaminants from dirty ventilation systems or water-damaged walls, ceilings, and carpets; and pesticides from pest management practices.
Mechanical ventilation systems in large buildings are designed and operated not only to heat and cool the air, but also to draw in and circulate outdoor air. If they are poorly designed, operated, or maintained, however, ventilation systems can contribute to indoor air problems in several ways.
For example, problems arise when, in an effort to save energy, ventilation systems are not used to bring in adequate amounts of outdoor air. Inadequate ventilation also occurs if the air supply and return vents within each room are blocked or placed in such a way that outdoor air does not actually reach the breathing zone of building occupants. Improperly located outdoor air intake vents can also bring in air contaminated with automobile and truck exhaust, boiler emissions, fumes from dumpsters, or air vented from restrooms. Finally, ventilation systems can be a source of indoor pollution themselves by spreading biological contaminants that have multiplied in cooling towers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, or the inside surfaces of ventilation duct work.
Indoor air pollutants can be circulated from portions of the building used for specialized purposes, such as restaurants
, print shops, and dry-cleaning stores, into offices in the same building. Carbon monoxide
and other components of automobile exhaust can be drawn from underground parking garages through stairwells and elevator shafts into office spaces.
In addition, buildings originally designed for one purpose may end up being converted to use as office space. If not properly modified during building renovations, the room partitions and ventilation system can contribute to indoor air quality problems by restricting air recirculation or by providing an inadequate supply of outdoor air.
See our section on toxic substances
for more information on some of these indoor air pollutants.
See your doctor if you are experiencing health problems that you suspect may be caused by indoor air pollution. In addition, it may be important to contact an attorney
who can help you protect your legal rights. Please keep in mind that there may be time limits
within which you must commence suit.Attorneys associated with InjuryBoard.com
will evaluate your case free of charge
. In addition, you will not pay any fees or costs unless your attorney recovers money for you. Please click on the free Ask An Attorney
button to take advantage of this valuable service.
- Slip and Fall | Property Owners' Liability
- Asthma: Overview
- Balance Problems: Overview
- Breathing: Overview
- Ear, Nose, & Throat Disorders
- Fatigue: Overview
- Humidifier Fever: Overview
- Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis: Overview
- Legionnaire's Disease: Overview
- Memory Loss
- Nausea: Overview