10 Dec, 2000
Sick Buildings, Bad Air
Many people across the United States and other countries have been plagued with mysterious ailments after spending time in certain types of buildings. Buildings which rely on the mechanical recycling of air (with no fresh air intake) have been shown to create levels of contaminants, toxic gases, and other factors which cause conditions harmful to the human body. Sick’ buildings are having adverse effects on our society.
People that spend time in these type buildings can immediately show allergy type symptoms such as headache, fatigue, dizziness, and irritability (Fairley 1). Other type symptoms a person might have after spending time in a sick’ building might include burning and watering eyes, shortness of breath after mild exertion, hoarseness, cough, sore throat, muscle cramps, chronic fatigue, dry skin, pimples, inability to concentrate, nausea, swelling of the legs or arms, heart palpitations, nosebleeds, or tremors (Phog 2).
Toxins from a sick’ building can enter the body through different manners. The toxins can be absorbed through inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. Although inhalation is the most common, some toxic materials can be absorbed by the skin or accidentally ingested. Since skin is permeable, toxic gases and liquids can be absorbed and distributed quickly into the blood stream. Methyl alcohol, for example, can be toxic by both inhalation and by absorption through the skin and is a primary component of shellac. Cuts and other abrasions can speed this process up as well as allow larger sized molecules such as bacteria and viruses access to the body and cause infection. Gases are absorbed by inhalation. It is difficult to determine the effects of mixed chemical exposures. There can be many variations in the body’s response to combinations of toxins depending on the chemical or physical interactions of the materials and the effect that one chemical may have on the metabolism or absorption of another. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, one-third of the 70 million Americans who work indoors today are quarter in buildings that are the breeding ground for molds, bacteria, and volatile organic compounds (Savannah 1).
Classification of Effects goes as follows. Independent effect: Substances exert their own toxic effect independent of each other. Additive effect: Materials with similar toxicity produce a response equal to the sum of the effects produced by the individual materials. Antagonistic effect: Materials oppose or interfere with each other’s toxicity. Potentiating effect: One material enhances the toxicity of the other. Usually it is a material of relatively low toxicity that will increase the effect of a more dangerous substance. Synergistic effects: Two materials, contacted simultaneously, can produce a toxic effect greater than the sum of the two individual materials.
Types of Exposure goes as follows. Absorption: This is the ability of a porous material to absorb liquids or gases. The affinity for the material by the liquid or gas will affect the release or dissipation. This is seen in wood composite materials that will absorb solvents from coatings or adhesives and increase the length of time that it takes for the solvent to evaporate or dissipate. Adsorption: This is a word describing the retention of molecules of a gas, liquid, or solid on the surface of a different material. This is seen in the adherence of tobacco smoke on clothes and fabrics in the home or the adsorption of contaminants in water by activated carbon filters. Oxidation: Oxidation is the act of a material uniting with oxygen. Many materials are capable of this reaction and it can cause the release of toxic materials in to the environment. Ultra Violet Light: Ultra Violet Light (UV) is the high frequency wavelengths of light beyond violet in the visible spectrum. The wavelength ranges from about 3,900 angstroms to the upper limits of X-rays. UV can cause the chemical breakdown of many polymeric materials (such as plastic) which can then produce fumes or dusts (Unintended 2). The most common source of UV light is the sun. Out-gassing: This is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from common building materials, furniture and other synthetic composites. Even materials that appear solid such as plastic articles are constantly releasing residual volatile materials. Elevated temperatures generally increase the rate of release