Building Helps Workers Breathe Easier

Workers at the American Lung Association of Virginia are breathing a little easier thanks to a new office building with some very distinctive features.

It has been proven that buildings can actually make you sick. "Sick Building Syndrome" is a recently recognized phenomenon that occurs when a significant number of building occupants experience symptoms that do not fit the pattern of a particular illness and are difficult to trace to any specific source.

The American Lung Association (ALA) of Virginia recently took steps to eliminate sick building sydrome and help its employees breathe a little easier.

The association''s new "Breathe Easy" office building, located in Richmond, Va., doesn''t look any different than most office buildings, but observant visitors will notice some distinct features.

The hard wood and natural lineoleum floors are bare, because dust and spills can lurk in carpet fibers.

Crayola washable markers in bright colors are used on white-board shelves because the nontoxic markers do not compromise air quality like conventional white-board markers.

Low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)-producing paints were used on the walls.

Low pollen-producing plants, shrubs and trees were selected with mulch used around the building foundation to reduce mold growth.

The "Breathe Easy" concept aims at reducing air pollution, improving energy efficiency and raising the awareness of indoor air quality as a serious public health issue.

Air in most office buildings contains pollutants such as pollen, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, radon, VOC''s and second-hand smoke that can cause serious health effects like liver and kidney damage.

A World Helath Organization (WHO) report said that as many as 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may generate excessive complaints related to indoor air quality.

In a nationwide random sampling of office workers, 24 percent perceived air quality problems in their work environments, and 20 percent believed that their work performance was hampered because of those problems, according to WHO.

In Richmond, precautions have been taken to ensure that many harmful indoor pollutants are kept out of the 12,000-square foot building.

Better indoor air quality means happier, more productive people, according to case studies by the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Snowmass, Colo., group that focuses on energy efficiency and environmental issues in buildings.

There are no federal standards for indoor air quality, and experts doubt any would materialize for 10 or 1 5 years.

Until then, workers a the ALA office in Virginia are enjoying the unregulated benefits of the "Breathe Easy" office.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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