Some Cures For Sick Buildings

I was glad to see "Is your office killing you?" (Cover Story, June 5). American business and homebuilders have to wake up to the realities of indoor air pollution. As an architect, I am constantly thwarted by building owners wanting to keep the supposed "first costs" low, even though it has been clearly shown by numerous studies that a healthier environment is a more productive one. The payback on an investment of facility enhancement is nothing compared with lack of productivity, disability claims, employee turnover, and retraining.

My wife contracted multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) from an improperly installed furnace that put her in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. I quickly learned a lot about environmental allergens. Regular medical doctors are mostly clueless about MCS, but so-called alternative medicines have brought my wife 95% back from the brink of death.

Better design does lead to better profits, as your annual architectural awards program has clearly shown. The request for nontoxic materials in home design is increasing exponentially, but I have to struggle to convince business owners. Corporations would be smart to do the right thing now before they are mandated to do so.

David E. Christensen

Christensen Design Management

Bellingham, Wash.

Your story on sick buildings was well researched and written. I see scores of patients yearly with injuries from toxic chemical exposures, which are denied by many as being "all in their head." The BP Amoco disclosure of chem-lab risk sets a new standard for industry.

If the bottom line truly counts, recognizing safety and environmental risks and preventing or remedying them just makes sense. How sad it is that, in many cases, it takes an order from Workers' Compensation judges to get injured patients into our Biodetoxification Program--when the treatment is so cost-effective and can put people back to work rather than on permanent disability.

The economic and personal physical loss from sick-building syndrome is staggering, and an open and receptive approach could be a win-win situation for everyone.

Allan D. Lieberman, M.D.

Center for Occupational &

Environmental Medicine

North Charleston, S.C.

In your story, I looked for but could not find anything on modern commercial airplanes. They are "sick buildings" too, with many parallels with stationary buildings. They recirculate the air in the cabin to save energy and money. They have the accumulation of ages and Lord-knows-what in their ventilating systems. And, they do a great job of immersing all the passengers in a mixture of everyone else's effluents and "bugs" for hours.

Paul Shewmon

Columbus, Ohio

After recently being diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and having to switch from a corporate office to working at home, I read your story with great interest. While I commend Michelle Conlin on a fine journalistic endeavor, I find it surprising that she failed to mention a major threat to indoor air quality that comes from the multitude of employees who wear fragrances and other chemically based grooming products such as hair spray.

In fact, most perfumes are petroleum based and contain some of the same toxic chemicals mentioned, such as formaldehyde and benzene. Many of my symptoms were brought on by the widespread use of perfumes, colognes, and hair sprays. To people with MCS, inhaling these fragrances is like second-hand smoke for others. Common symptoms are headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, disorientation, inability to concentrate, confusion, and depression. As a testimony to this personal assault on air quality, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently banned the use of all fragrances and chemical hair products in public places. There is also a small group of corporations in the U.S. that have banned the use of fragrances in the workplace.

While working on corporate management and fellow employees to change their ways, there are other strategies that may be helpful. Taking frequent breaks outside, staying away from toxic areas (such as copying machines, renovations, and new furniture) and avoiding heavily scented people are just some. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-based air purifiers and ozone generators, some so small that they can be worn around your neck, can also greatly improve air quality.

Ian Greenberg


Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.