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Sick Building Syndrome

C H E M I C A L S

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Is Your Office Making you Sick: The Hidden Health Hazards at Work

By Dr. Kristie

Is your office making you sick? You go to the office each day and spend long hours working to earn your pay. You feel a little tired and run down but attribute it to working too hard to get that last-minute project done on time. You may want to stop and consider whether your office building may be contributing to your lack of energy and general, ill health. Could your office be making you sick?

It may surprise you to learn that some modern office settings play host to hundreds of potentially carcinogenic volatile organic compounds. These compounds enter the air you breathe as you’re sitting at your desk and walking around the building. These compounds come from a variety of sources and have the capability of causing serious health problems among workers exposed to them. There’s even a name for this phenomenon called “sick building syndrome”. This is a syndrome where a building with poor ventilation houses a variety of hazardous chemicals that can enter the air and cause health problems among its occupants. It’s true that your office could be making you sick.

What are the sources for the volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) that have the capability of causing health problems? Some of the potential sources include building materials that emit volatile compounds, office furnishings, printers, copiers, and even the carpeting. When an office undergoes a renovation, the health risk to the building’s occupants becomes elevated as paints are applied to walls in a closed environment and new office furnishing are brought in that can be a source of fresh volatile compounds.

Other ways your office could be making you sick is by the application of pesticides and use of cleaning chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic. This can exacerbate by poor ventilation created by sealed windows and the general lack of air movement to needed to remove potentially dangerous volatile compounds.

Some symptoms you may experience from exposure to volatile organic compounds include headache, fatigue, cough, wheezing, nausea, and eye irritation. What should you do if you suspect you’re working in a building with sick building syndrome? Report the situation to the owners or landlords of the building and request that an environmental inspection be carried out. If the landlords are unwilling to comply, you may have to contact your local environmental health agency. Let them know you believe your office may be making you sick and are concerned about the health of other exposed workers.


About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.


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