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Sick building syndrome. Maybe you've heard of it. This is where the air inside a building such as your home or office is so contaminated it causes illness to the occupants.
A term developed in the 1970's Sick Building Syndrome or (SBS) describes unexplained respiratory and non-respiratory symptoms experienced by building occupants that occur only when they are inside the building, and which resolve soon after leaving the building.
Sick Building Syndrome can occur at many different levels. Some cases are more dangerous than others. If a building suffers repeated water damage, SBS can be severe enough to cause serious illness.
If you feel sick at work and better at home there may be mold in the air at the office
One example was at the courtyard-style Best Western in Springdale Ohio. Back in 1998, the hotel's General Manager Jim Crane received an emergency call about a serious water leak in Room 529. He rushed to the room along with the hotel's maintenance man and began ripping apart the walls in the room. Inside, they found something out of a B-grade horror movie: a deathly smelling mold so gooey and hairy it seemed like it was breathing.
Crane soon discovered that, like the Blob, the Aspergillus strain of mold was everywhere: swarming through bathrooms, sprouting out of ceilings, and creeping through the ventilation and vending machine areas.
Over the course of the next year, Crane worked to rid the hotel of the mounds of black growth. He knew they were a disaster for guest relations, but what he didn't realize was that each time he took a breath, he was inhaling the mold's toxic fungal spores. These bioaerosols landed on the delicate mucous membranes of his airways and lungs, causing chronic inflammation and eventually leading to a medical diagnosis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The condition further scarred his lungs and eventually progressed into pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that is painful, debilitating, and sometimes even fatal. Slowly and invisibly, his workplace was killing him.
Today, Crane wheezes on his living room sofa--paying bills with his retirement savings and taking 17 different drugs each day. He filed a lawsuit in January against the hotel's owners, Laks Enterprises, which wouldn't comment on the suit. They lost the hotel through foreclosure to Bank of America in September after spending more than $2 million on an exhaustive remediation, and ''the hotel is now safe,'' says the hotel's director of sales, Karen Sullivan. Already, though, Crane has lost half of his lung capacity. Says Crane's physician, Dr. Eckardt Johanning, medical director of Eastern New York Occupational & Environmental Health Center in Albany: ''Lack of proper protection and maintenance in that building caused this tragedy.
NO STANDARD. Crane's case may be an extreme example of what can happen when you work in a sick building, but he is hardly alone. Employees at Levi Strauss, US West, BP Amoco, even the Environmental Protection Agency, have claimed they suffered sick-building-related illnesses. Cases like these happen so often, in fact, that the World Health Organization estimates that one out of every three workers may be toiling away in a workplace that is making them sick.
The moral of the story, if you or your fellow co-workers are experiencing headaches, nausea or upper respiratory symptoms while at work that subside a few hours after leaving the office, only to return the following day, explain this to your physician and if your boss won't do anything about it, get together with your co-workers and hire a certified mold inspector to perform a mold inspection and test the air for toxic mold. You and your co-workers health is at stake!
Michelle Conlin (senior writer at BusinessWeek)
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