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Sick Building Syndrome may be affecting your health. Here's how to recognize it and avoid it. </P> Many of Vancouver's condos are being rebuilt because of leaky condo syndrome..

Many of Vancouver's condos are being rebuilt because of leaky condo syndrome.

My health steadily deteriorated over a period of three years while I was teaching in a modular classroom. After seeing a variety of doctors, undergoing numerous medical tests and being misdiagnosed with other illnesses, I was finally diagnosed with having Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and as a result, developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is an environmentally induced disease that is caused by exposure to low levels of indoor air contamination on a recurring basis. SBS is characterized by multiple systematic symptoms (Bradshaw, 2001). It is a modern disease that is not well understood by many allopathic physicians.

Causes of SBS

In the 1970s contractors began constructing airtight, energy efficient buildings with sealed windows that cannot be opened. The only way for fresh air to get into these buildings is through man-made ventilation systems. When heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC) are flawed or not properly maintained, air that circulates through them becomes contaminated. Contaminants come from a variety of sources. They can either be volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as dusts, carbons, molds, ozone, bacteria and viruses, or they can come from chemicals found in manufactured products such as smoke, cleaning products, industrial fumes and building materials (Tate, 1994).

"Offloading" and "offgassing" are two terms used to describe the slow and continuous seepage of chemicals that leak out of many manufactured supplies (Tate, 1994). Chemicals from products containing formaldehyde and gases from oil-based materials are continually leaking toxins into the air. Formaldehyde is found in products such as glues, carpeting, upholstery, pressed wood furnishings and, until recently, was used as a preservative in plywood. Items made out of plastics are oil based and they too are guilty of offloading toxic gases into the air. Chemicals offload for many years. Sick Building Syndrome is prevalent in buildings that are poorly ventilated, new, water damaged, moldy, near parking lots, renovated, carpeted and that have high CO2 levels (Tearl, 1999).

SBS is prevalent in buildings that are poorly ventilated, new, water damaged, moldy, near parking lots, renovated, carpeted and that have high CO2 levels.

Symptoms of SBS

Symptoms of SBS include: nosebleeds, fatigue, eye irritation, sore throat, headaches, skin rashes, dizziness, excess mucus in the throat, trouble swallowing, gastrointestinal and bowel problems, nausea, chronic cough and hoarseness, sinus problems, burning in the trachea, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, trouble concen-trating (brain fog), chest pains, heart palpitations, serious edema (swelling of ankles and legs), extreme sensitivity to odours and muscle and joint cramps. Indoor air contamination may cause a healthy person to become very sick and can trigger allergic reactions in people with allergies (Environmental Illness Society of Canada).

Recognizing SBS

The above symptoms of are called "non-specific" and overlap symptoms of many other diseases and conditions the flu, mononucleosis, viral infections, common colds, heart burns, irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal conditions, and some forms of cancer, to name a few. Another stumbling block in the way of recognizing SBS is that everyone is biologically different; therefore everyone won't have the exact same reaction to the exact same environment. Some people won't react at all, and getting diagnosed can take a long time.

Keep a record of when and where health problems arise. At first, people who have SBS feel like they are coming down with the flu. Personally, I got sick during the work day but I felt better after being home and in the mornings before going to work. I also felt better on weekends and holidays. A cold will eventually go away. With SBS, health worsens and other symptoms develop. Prolonged exposure to environmental toxins can affect the immune system. By leaving the "sick building" as soon as you suspect you have SBS you have a good chance of recovering. If you stay too long (as I did) you are at risk of developing other environmentally induced diseases such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and/or fibromyalgia (Matthews, 1992).

Back on the Path to Good Health

There are several things you can do to detoxify your body and to regain health after your immune system has been overloaded. Under the care of a naturopathic doctor I began to cleanse my body by following a strict nutritional plan and by taking therapeutic amounts of vitamins, minerals and herbs. By following my ND's advice my health has improved and my immune system is stronger.

Avoid SBS in the First Place!

The most important factor in avoiding SBS and MCS is knowledge: becoming informed about the potential harm caused by products and materials in our man-made environment will go a long way in protecting ourselves from disease. We shouldn't eat processed, chemical-laden foods, so why should we live or work in chemical-laden buildings?

Tips for Protection

  • Furnish naturally: use paint with no lead, avoid carpeting, and furnish floors with wood or ceramic tile. If you must have carpets, find one made of cotton, wool, or hemp, and use natural rubber underlay instead of foam. Upholster your furniture with organic fibres as well.
  • Wash organic: always use organic soaps, shampoos, moisturizers, and other personal care products. Avoid products with chemical additives, particularly sodium lauryl (laureth) sulphate, which is an irritant and potential carcinogen.
  • Grow plants: they filter harmful pollutants from indoor and outdoor air.
  • Buy new technology: newer models of computers and other office equipment offload less toxic gas and emit less electromagnetic radiation. To further protect yourself, place your computer monitor in a metal box or put wire mesh around it to create a shield from radiation.
  • Clean often: regular cleaning of home and office will lessen your exposure to dirt, dust, mold, and other allergy-causing particulates.
  • Eat healthily: maintaining a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals will enhance the immune system and make the body function at its optimum level. Exercise regularly too!
  • Ventilate all rooms: good ventilation means that pollutants and allergens can't settle in one place. Fresh, clean air is always helpful.

Adapted from Healing the Planet One Patient at a Time by Jozef Krop, MD.

The above list is just a small sample of things we can do to make our environment healthier. To learn more, you can buy Dr. Krop's book from Kos Publishing Inc. Call 519-927-1049 or e-mail helke@inetsonic.com.

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