7 Health Problems for the Modern Age

Sick Building Syndrome

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­Rising energy costs aren't just harmful to your wallet; if you work in an office building, they could be making you physically ill. Businesses have found that by packing buildings with insulation, then adding caulking and weather stripping, they can seal buildings tight, keep indoor temperatures constant, and cut energy costs in the process. Such measures require the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to work harder to recycle air. After all, when the building is sealed, you can't open a window to let fresh air circulate. The result is sick building syndrome, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies as a situation where building occupants experience discomforting health effects even though no specific cause can be found. Symptoms include headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness; nausea; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors. The EPA estimates that 30 percent of all U.S. office buildings could be "sick," so they recommend routine maintenance of HVAC systems, including cleaning or replacing filters; replacing water-stained ceiling tiles and carpeting; restricting smoking in and around buildings; and ventilating areas where paints, adhesives, or solvents are used.