Your Office Could Be Making You Sick

March 19, 2007.

New Straits Times (Malaysia)

PUTRAJAYA: If the building you work in is "sick", there is a likelihood that you too could fall ill.

And you could also fall ill even if you are a long distance away from it.

This is called the Sick Building Syndrome, where the building-related illnesses can be caused by chemical and biological agents in the buildings.

Exposure to them can cause pneumonitis, occupational asthma, tuberculosis and hypersensitivity.

Public Works Department health branch director Datuk Puteh Kamariah Mohamad said individuals could also contract multiple chemical sensitivity or environmental illnesses where they could develop sensitivity to even low levels of certain chemicals, due to extended exposure.

"Why all the concern now? "People are spending more than 90 per cent of their time indoors," she said in a working paper highlighting that this concern is also related to the fact that humans consume 25,000 litres of air a day.

She classified three kinds of hazardous particles and aerosols that are light enough to be suspended in the air.

These are from construction activities, printing or photocopying. There are also some chemical reactions in which vapours condense to form particles like dust, smoke, fumes and mist.

Puteh Kamariah said cleaners, adhesives, furnishings and even flooring could produce airborne chemicals.

A Mayo Clinic research showed that 97 per cent of chronic sinusitis cases are caused by moulds.

Highlighting the dangers of these microscopic organisms which grow and produce incessantly, she said they could also be the cause of other problems like asthma and allergies. The countless spores released end up in the nose and lungs where there is warmth, dampness and nutrients.

Meanwhile, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study on occupants of buildings showed that the occupants suffered a myriad of symptoms, including (in order of frequency) eye irritation, dry throats, headaches, fatigue, sinus congestion, skin irritation, shortness of breath, coughs, dizziness and nausea.

Puteh Kamariah said the Green Buildings initiative, launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Thursday, would help promote buildings that are designed not only to eliminate wastage of energy and natural resources but also provide a healthy environment for people to live and work in.