The air in offices, where white collar workers spend their lives, is increasingly contaminated with molds, bacteria, chemical fumes and other contaminants. Four factors are making the situation worse: efforts to reduce energy consumption, the tendency to squeeze more people into less space, sloppy maintenance, and increasing reliance on toxic chemicals in manufacture of office supplies and equipment.
Dr. Alfred Munser, a director of the American Lung Association, says, "In my practise [as director of critical care at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, MD], I see an increasing number of people with vague respiratory problems that are quite bothersome. You can't really pin the problems on anything specific, but looking closely at the history of these people, you get the feeling that the symptoms are associated with something at work. Very often ventilation systems are not cleaned out. And all sorts of things can grow in those systems."
People on the breathing end of those ventilation systems tend to suffer from more than their share of headaches, sore throats, eye irritations, colds, allergies, and influenza, says Dr. Munser.
Since the energy crisis a decade ago, landlords have been reducing their heating and air condition bills by installing heavier insulation and by reducing fresh air intake; fresh air has to be heated or cooled to the proper temperature, at considerable expense. Pumping recycled air through a building's ventilation ducts is far cheaper.
Vapors from copying machines and carpets, asbestos fibers, bacteria and viruses, hazardous dust, carbon monoxide from underground parking garages--all contribute to the problem.
Because modern buildings lack windows that employees can open to let in fresh air, everyone is becoming reliant upon mechanical ventilation systems. Yet in 35% of 240 buildings inspected over the past five years by ACVA Atlantic (a company in Fairfax, VA, that investigates and remedies indoor air pollution problems), the fresh air intakes were sealed off entirely. "That's just ignorance," says Gray Robertson, president of ACVA. "The building engineers never saw the absenteeism records in the personnel department and no one made the connection between polluted air and all the headaches, coughs, and sickness."
Poor indoor air quality makes many U.S. white collar workers
miserable, and it costs an estimated $2 to $3 billion each year
in extra sick days and medical pay.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: indoor air pollution; air pollution; air quality; alfred munser; american lung association; resiratory disease; lung disease; occupational safety and health; acva atlantic inc.; gray robertson;