"It is impossible for ideas to
compete in the marketplace if no forum for
their presentation is provided or available."
Thomas Mann, 1896
The Business Forum
Living and Working in a Healthy Environment
Everyone talks about productivity,
profitability, and strategic planning � but all of that is secondary if our
workplace environment or our homes are interfering with our ability to live
healthy and happy lives. If you, your family, or your employees are
experiencing headaches, allergy symptoms, breathing or sleeping problems, or
even more serious ailments such as cancer, it�s possible that your office or
home is literally making you sick.
How did our homes and offices, which
used to be refuges, become potentially hazardous? After the energy crisis
of the early 70�s, we tightly sealed and insulated our homes and office
buildings to save energy. Ironically, fresh air was tossed out the window!
At the same time, more and more chemicals were added to our carpets,
clothes, and building materials. Unhealthy chemicals and gasses were
released into our newly sealed interior environments. And of course there
is gypsum board � that ubiquitous wall and ceiling material that took the US
construction business by storm in the 1960�s and is still the most commonly
used wallboard material used today.
How can �civilians�, who don�t have the
scientific savvy to figure out the cause of indoor air pollution, know what
is causing the problem? Well, when there is a crime, the CSI experts arrive on
the scene and use their knowledge and high-tech gadgets to figure out what
happened. They find the clues that the untrained observer does not see.
That is what an environmental scientist does with buildings. He or she will
discover the sources of environmental pollution, so that a healthy indoor
environment can be restored.
The environmental scientist will use
one of the newest fields of environmental sleuthing called Building
Science � it focuses on the analysis and control of all of the physical
phenomena that affect buildings; it involves detailed analysis of building
materials and building envelope systems.
Let us look at a few examples of what
can go wrong with our indoor environments, how to detect the source of the
problems, and how to fix them.
The Big Four Indoor Environmental
Below are examples of each of the �Big
Four� problems, and how some detective work helped find the problem and in
most cases create a healthier indoor environment for five clients who had
literally been made sick by their environments (some names and specifics
have been changed). Their stories are examples of how we can monitor,
identify and control environmental problems that affect our well-being and
productivity in our offices and our homes.
PROBLEM: Mold and moisture.
Client: Mary is a successful Tai-Chi teacher in Los Angeles. She has
the perfect apartment: large, rent controlled (= inexpensive), in a
great part of town. She only eats organic food, keeps her body in great
shape, has no health concerns other than an occasional common cold. But
lately she has not been feeling so good. One of her clients told her
that her apartment smelled musty.
Lots of problems: leaky windows were allowing water to get into the wall
cavities, and that moisture led to mold growth � a lot of mold growth.
Because of bad drainage around the outside perimeter of the apartment, water
was seeping into the crawl space. Mary was advised to see a doctor. The
doctor recommended she either move out or get her landlord to fix the
moisture and mold problems. Mary didn�t listen to the doctor, and stayed in
the apartment for six more months. By the time she moved out, she was so
ill she could not work anymore and some days she barely got out of bed. It
turns out that Mary is severely allergic to mold.
Mold has been in the news for the last few years. Why now? Why wasn�t it
making people sick years ago? Water has always gotten into buildings, but
because we are constructing them so tight now it cannot get out! Buildings
used to breathe. The ubiquitous use of gypsum board is adding to the
problem. Mold likes to eat the paper backing on gypsum board, so that is
where the mold grows best. Where does the water that leaks into the house
end up? In the wall cavities where the gypsum board with the yummy paper
Measures: Keep moisture out of the house. If moisture is getting in,
depending on the how long it has been wet and what kind of material is wet;
remove, replace, or dry it. If you think you have a problem, have a professional
check it out. Once the material has been removed, have a pro conduct air
tests to make sure all the mold has been removed, or you may just be
delaying a recurrence of the mold growth. A �pro� in this business is an
environmental scientist. Make sure the �pro� is an independent �detective,�
who will give you a professional, unbiased opinion about whether the mold
removal contractor (commonly called Remediation Contractors) has done a
thorough job, and all the mold has been removed.
Mold and Moisture � another case
Client: Kathy worked as an assistant in the accounting department of a
large Corporation. She worked in a small office in the lowest level
(basement) of the building. She began to feel sick at work. She was
fine in the morning when she first arrived, but as the day progressed,
she began to have allergy-type symptoms --- sneezing, run-down, like she
was always on the verge of getting a cold.
Her employer agreed to hire an environmental scientist to check out her work
space, confident that it couldn�t be an indoor environmental problem that
was causing Kathy�s symptoms. Air samples were taken for mold spores. The
laboratory report showed elevated levels of a type of mold that often causes
allergy problems in sensitive people. Unfortunately, Kathy�s employer would
not pay for the additional inspection needed to find the source of the
problem, which was probably moisture contamination in the heating ducts that
could have been easily remediated.
Kathy left the company and sued her employer. They settled out of
court. The details were not disclosed, but it probably would have been much
cheaper for the employer (and better for the entire staff) to remediate the
problem, and remove the source of the mold. By the way . . . her symptoms disappeared
within a few days of leaving the company.
Client: Bill and Jen decided to have a baby, after Bill finally felt
secure in his new role on a popular TV series. Almost as soon as baby
Jeffrey came home, he became sick with constant colds, ear infections,
and bronchitis. By the time he was six months old, the poor little guy
had been to the hospital four times! Coincidentally, the master bedroom
always seemed to be dusty, no matter how often it was vacuumed and
cleaned. At first glance, it didn�t seem like those two problems would
be connected, did it?
The furnace was located in the basement/crawl space, with lots of dirt,
smells, and yucky stuff. Usually that is no problem. But in this case, the
last person to service the furnace neglected to replace the door that
usually seals the furnace from the crawl space. It just so happens that
Jeffrey slept in a low crib by Bill and Jen�s bed. One of the vents that
blow out warm or cool air into the master bedroom is right next to the crib,
about a foot from Jeffrey�s face. This vent is located directly above the
furnace in the crawl space.
The door was put back on the furnace; the ducts were cleaned. The baby�s
health improved and the bedroom was no longer dusty! Most of the
HVAC-related problems are more complicated than this. Often they involve
poor quality filters, disconnected ducts or pressurization problems. These
systems are a very important part of keeping a house healthy.
Client: George was a healthy, middle-aged researcher who suddenly had
trouble thinking straight. This was a devastating symptom for someone
who makes their living by finding and analyzing obscure facts! He also
noticed that he was more clumsy and uncoordinated than he used to be.
He had lived in the same apartment and worked in the same place for
years, so at first he did not suspect it was related to his
environment. But he started researching his symptoms and found that
among other possible causes his symptoms matched exposure to pesticides.
He hired an environmental scientist to make an assessment.
Diagnosis: Shortly before he started having symptoms, George�s wall-mounted
AC unit had stopped working. The building owner sent someone over to
replace the unit. In the process of installing the new unit, the worker
made a hole about eight inches in diameter below the new unit. The hole was
never filled in, and the wall cavity was left exposed. The insulation
inside the wall cavity was tested and voila! Very high levels of pesticides
George reported it to his landlord and moved out. He is getting somewhat
better, but some of the health damage may be permanent.
Atefeh emigrated to the U.S. from Iran with her family 20 years ago. She
became a citizen, worked hard, and saved enough to buy a condominium. She
lived there for 12 years but often had trouble sleeping. The last five years
she has also struggled to recover from brain cancer.
Diagnosis: On the wall outside her bedroom was a row of eight electric
meters, which provide the power for all eight units in her building. The
electrical wiring enters the building through the outside of her master
bedroom wall - the wall where she lays her head every night to sleep. This
created a very high magnetic field, several times more than the recommended
maximum level for a bedroom.
The Story: In
some European countries, part of the inspection that is done before an owner
is allowed to move into a new house includes testing the magnetic fields.
Permission to move in is not granted unless the fields are low enough. For
more information, see
Unfortunately, it was too late. Atefeh passed away. Did the high magnetic
fields cause Atefeh�s brain cancer? No one can be sure. But it definitely is a
How are you feeling? How is your family
doing? Are you in the market for a new home or place of business? Do you
want to know if it is healthy? Or how to make it healthier?
You owe it to
your family, your employees, and yourself to ensure the environment is healthy.
Steven G. Rush is a
Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is the
Founder and Principal of Rush Quality Environments, a green-oriented
company that specializes in creating healthy indoor environments.
He graduated from Emory University with a BS in biology and a
strong foundation in chemistry and has an MA from Duke University in
Forestry, specializing in plant physiology. Steve was a general
contractor for several years. He is a Registered Environmental
Assessor with the state of California and has these certifications
with the American Council for Accredited Certification: Certified
Indoor Environmental Consultant, Certified Microbial Consultant,
Certified Indoor Air Quality Consultant and Certified Mold
Remediation Supervisor. He is a certified Asbestos Building
Inspector. Steve has testified at arbitrations, mediations,
depositions and in court as an expert witness concerning indoor
environmental issues. He helps environmentally
sensitive clients create healthy homes and workspaces. He also
consults with builders and architects to make structures healthy and
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