Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Sick Building Syndrome Linked to Fibers

Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Sick Building Syndrome Linked to Fibers

Article excerpt

Sick building syndrome (SBS) sometimes may be caused by synthetic fibers floating in the air from ceiling tiles, insulation, and ventilation systems and is unrelated to smoking or many other indoor air pollutants, according to studies by Alan Hedge, associate professor of design and environmental analysis.

While implicating man-made mineral fibers (MMMF) as the cause of SBS, the studies also dispel the view that cigarette smoke substantially affects a building's indoor air quality and that poor indoor air quality alone causes SBS.

"Although people assume that sick building syndrome is related to gaseous air pollutants, many studies, including ours, have been unable to find the link," Hedge says. "When we look at MMMF, however, which are currently often not measured in buildings, we find much higher reports of SBS where the MMMF are high. And when we install filters that collect the fibers, the number of reports dramatically declines."

Hedge also found that women and other workers with higher levels of job stress were at double the risk for reporting SBS symptoms. Job dissatisfaction and VDT use were also linked to higher rates of SBS.

These findings come from a series of studies by Hedge and research support specialist William Erickson and statistician Gail Rubin, both at Cornell.

SBS is a collection of workplace symptoms, including eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, headache, lethargy, and respiratory and skin problems. MMMF, which may be suspended in air until they settle in dust, are present in ceiling tiles and thermal and acoustic insulation, duct linings of ventilation systems, and other building construction materials.

Hedge has also found that smoking policies have no significant effect on standard indoor air quality measures or on reports of SBS symptoms; that the amount of outdoor air used in air-conditioned buildings has no effect on SBS, indicating that air quality may be unrelated to SBS; that the more MMMF found in settled office dust, the higher the number of SBS symptoms that were reported among workers in the office; and that when filters that could remove most airborne particles were installed, reports of SBS and absenteeism declined. …

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