Archive for March 12th, 2011


If your office building had an ignition system, it could probably be launched into orbit and serve nicely as a space station. That’s because skyrocketing energy costs have caused engineers to seal off the buildings they design as tightly as possible from the outside environment.
The idea—to conserve heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer—is a good one, but there’s a catch. The air in your office might have pollutants in it that you’d rather be flushed out the window, pollutants that are believed to cause the array of illnesses and allergies that have come to be called sick building syndrome.
The specific causes of sick building syndrome have proven hard enough to pin down that some researchers still believe it’s more of a psychological than physical malady. But Bill C. Wolverton, Ph.D., an environmental research scientist and consultant and president of Wolverton Environmental Services in Picayune, Mississippi, isn’t one of them. Literally hundreds of chemical by-products of various types have been found in office environments, he says. They range from copy machine chemicals to gases given off by the glues and fibers in carpeting. From formaldehyde emitted by particleboard shelves to cleaning solvents and air fresheners. From insecticides and paint fumes to insulation dust. From molds and mildew to cigarette smoke, not to mention the carbon dioxide exhaled by you and your fellow workers.
Any one of those elements alone may not be present in levels high enough to cause problems, Dr. Wolverton and others believe, but if you mix them all together and combine them with lousy ventilation, you have all the ingredients for a potentially dangerous toxic stew. “There’s no mystery to me why sick building syndrome is happening,” Dr. Wolverton says. “When you have an environment like that, how could it possibly be healthy?”