Is Going to Work Making You Sick?
Commercial Indoor Air Quality


American adults spend an average of 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which lists poor indoor air quality as the fourth largest environmental threat to health in the country.

Indoor environments are often contaminated with pollutants sourced from allergens from outside air or indoor materials, chemicals such as radon, and moisture such as mold. The LEED rating system dedicates an entire section of its guidelines to "Indoor Environmental Quality," which encompasses several aspects related to indoor air quality or IAQ. And a number of health conditions are a result of poor IAQ in commercial buildings.

Sick Building Syndrome, or SBS, is the name given to the condition in which individuals suffer from health problems or symptoms associated with the building in which they work or live. Typically, the problems are more acute when the person is inside the building and subside when they leave. Common symptoms include headaches, fatigue, coughing, dizziness and nausea. People with asthma are especially prone to SBS.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, more than 20 million people in the U.S suffer from asthma, which accounts for nearly 2 million emergency room visits a year. Other contaminants such as tobacco smoke and radon are leading causes of lung cancer.  

If IAQ is not maintained up to federal standards, companies may face costly litigation from employees suffering from SBS and have to contend with diminished worker productivity.

Employee complaints about indoor environments are becoming more common due to increased awareness of the risks associated with poor IAQ. The number of lawsuits related to IAQ are mounting as well.

The suits cover a variety of complaints, many of them related to exposure to substances ranging from mold to toxic paint. In a closely watched case, J.J. Acquisition Corp. v. Pacific Gulf Properties filed in September 2000, a group of employees at a California newspaper company sued their building management company for $10 million. The workers claimed the company failed to prevent or eliminate severe mold growth which they said caused them to suffer from lung and sinus infections.    

In terms of productivity, the EPA estimates that poor indoor air costs the U.S. tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical expenses.