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Do You Work in a Sick Building?

If you feel sick every time you go to work in Iowa, it may not be because you hate your job. If your symptoms include coughing, sneezing, watering eyes and/or achy muscles, the Environmental Protection Agency says that you may work in a sick building

Yes, buildings themselves can become sick because of one or more of the following:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Biological contamination
  • Indoor chemical contamination
  • Outdoor chemical contamination

Ventilation issues

Federal law requires that your building’s ventilation system provide each occupant with five cubic feet of outdoor air per minute. This minimum standard, however, may be inadequate for your particular building or the types of work that you and your co-workers perform there. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends at least 15 cfm, increasing to 20 cfm for office spaces and 60 cfm for areas that receive heavy smoke, dust or fumes.

Biological contamination issues

Your building could expose you to viruses, bacteria, molds or pollens every day. These contaminants can build up in your building’s air ducts, carpeting, ceiling tiles, and any other damp places.

Indoor contamination issues

Your building contains many materials and substances such as the following that can contaminate the air you breathe:

  • Copy machines
  • Carpeting
  • Manufactured wood products
  • Upholstery
  • Cleaning products

The volatile organic compounds found in these materials and substances can pose health hazards for you and your co-workers. Even more frightening, some of these VOCs are known to be carcinogenic.

Outdoor contamination issues

Contaminants from such things as vehicle exhausts, fumes emanating from the air and plumbing exhausts of nearby buildings, or pollen from outdoor landscaping can seep into your building through open windows and doors. In addition, your building’s air intake vents may be inadequate to stop outdoor contaminants from entering that way.

If you believe your building is sick, report your suspicions to your supervisor or someone on your employer’s management team. Oftentimes a site survey and subsequent cleanup effort can make your building – and you – healthy once again. This is general educational information and not legal advice.