Sick Building Syndrome

Workplace Exposure: Outdoor Air Adversely Affects Indoor Air

When 20 employees of an insurance company claims office in Seattle, WA, developed a variety of symptoms which they associated with the workplace, ICTM was called. One of ICTM's physicians evaluated each employee, evaluated the environmental testing, and communicated the results to the group. We responded to numerous questions from the employees and were able to reduce the apparent distress of the staff. One of the female employees had objective findings of acute pulmonary disease. The ICTM physician inspected the ledge of the open window adjacent to her desk, as well as the roof above, and found heavy pigeon droppings. This employee was referred for pulmonary evaluation and found to have pneumonitis induced by exposure to avian proteins from the pigeons. Subsequently, our physician again met with the staff and explained the need for the windows to remain closed due to the risk of disease.

Workplace: Employee Symptoms from Insulation Fibers?

Sixty employees of a brand-new state Motor Vehicle Administration building in downtown Boston were complaining of a vast array of symptoms which they related to fiberglass insulation in the ceiling of their offices, particles of which appeared on some desktops. An industrial hygiene evaluation revealed that the material was actually the fibers from the ceiling tiles which had been disturbed. This had been exacerbated by some additional wiring work going on in the ceiling some three months after occupancy, but was expected to diminish after the disturbance ended.

The ICTM physician reviewed the health complaints that had been reported to the employee health nurse. He explained to the nurse that other than irritative effects, no adverse health effects were expected to occur from the fibers. Our physician then toured the facility and met with the employees at an information session, which was not attended by senior supervisory personnel. In this setting, the employees quickly revealed their real concerns: they were afraid for their safety, but not from the fibers. The building was located in partially industrialized, low-income area which had a high crime rate. The parking area was poorly lit and the employees feared that they and their cars were not safe. ICTM worked with the administration and a committee of employees to develop safety measures designed to improve the exterior lighting around the building, place a high fence around the parking area and provide guard service and an escort service after dark, increase the police presence in the area, as well as street lighting.

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