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Diagnosing a sick building.

On Febr. 26, this publication reported on an upcoming event in Garden City that could be the first step toward legislative action on sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and its impact on commercial real estate.

The New York State Assembly Committee on Health and Environmental Conservation conducted the state's first-ever hearing on SBS and indoor air quality.

Those of us who work in commercial buildings, or make a living in the industry, welcome this initiative because poor indoor air quality is expensive. Hopefully the Legislature will reasonably address an issue that, according to the American Lung Association, costs an estimated $100 billion annually in medical claims and lot productivity.

The State Assembly should carefully consider an empirical method for determining indoor air quality hazard and make sure that mandates guiding remediation are neither excessive nor counterproductive. By establishing consistency we can better understand when a building is sick and, hopefully, have a reasonable et of guidelines to ensure the health of our workers, workplaces and investments.

Until the committee makes its recommendations, however, those of us in the "real world" must confront the issue now. The fact is, Class A and other commercial Buildings - old and new - are literally making people sick. Property managers have added SBS to the list of problems he or she confronts. In today's environmentally-charged workplace, the health of a building can become a source of contention between you and your tenants.

As environmental consultants, we have found that understanding the causes of SBS makes it easier to determine remedies. Equally important, understanding the causes of a problem help remove its fear. Recall that this was not the case during the early days of asbestos, and the price paid by commercial building owners and investors was high.

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome can be defined as a mas outbreak of complaints affecting between 15 and 20 per cent of the occupants of your building. Typical symptoms include headaches, eye irritation, sore throat, fatigue, drowsiness and nausea. In many cases, medical causes of the complaints are not identifiable and the symptoms are often more discomfort than acute illness. But don't be mislead, although no one can say precisely what the long-term effects on human health will be, lawyers will certainly try.

The damage done by an alleged "sick" building affects not only people, but reputations of buildings. The snowball effect from rumors or unsubstantiated reports about the health of a building can cause damage that no building owner or lender needs. This is why property managers should take an outbreak of complaints very seriously and act swiftly to investigate and address them.

Problems and Solutions

In addition to speaking with reputable environmental consultants whose experience with indoor air quality and SBS testing ha been established, a property manager is advised to keep this list of the chief cause of SBS: * Heating ventilation & air conditioning systems malfunctions *Office furnishings and equipment * Renovation and building materials * Building occupancy patterns

There are steps that can be taken to make sure that SBS, if it exists, is handled effectively and doesn't become financially damaging to management. These begin by keeping an eye on a few things that seem to be contributors to the problem.

Heating Ventilation

and Air Conditioning

Systems (HVAC)?

Real air is produced by a natural system at which humankind marvels and attempts to imitate in an artificial environment such as an office building. Although our technology has made high-rise workplaces possible, the systems that they use to create and circulate air, HVAC systems, require maintenance. In our experience a malfunctioning HVAC system, or one with a design flaw, causes poor indoor air quality. We often look at the HVAC system when in search of causes of SBS.

For example, a short-circuiting of the air flow supply between diffusers and return registers can result in an incomplete mixing of air in an occupied area. In addition, locating air intakes near exhaust outlets, cooling towers, parking lots or loading docks can pull odors and pollutants, such as vehicle exhaust, into the work area. This problem is compounded by poor occupancy patterns. A small, crowded office is no one's idea of the ideal workplace, yet it exists out of necessity. Air quality problems occur when a variable air volume system does not provide the necessary balance between incoming fresh air and the natural build-up of carbon dioxide within the space. Carbon dioxide build-ups, along with other gases, lead to discomfort. Consultants can offer specific advice on the design and management of your HVAC system.

One of the potential causes of SBS may occur Friday in your building if you shut-down the air handling system for the weekend. When a system is shut-down, high contamination levels can remain.

Unbalanced HVAC systems also cause an improper distribution of air. The air resistance of each component should be calculated and whenever your ductwork is altered, for whatever reason, the system must be rebalanced.

In some HVAC designs, thermostats represent too large an area, or are located too close to a heat source. In other designs that we've seen, the system is inaccesible, making filter changes and cooling coil maintenance difficult. This increases the threat of dust or bioaerosol - often called microbial - contamination, which can create tremendous problems. It is recommended that liner and insulation materials be kept clean and dry. Once microbial contamination occurs, the potential for health problems rises and expense will mount.

Office Equipment

& Electrical Fields

Copiers, laser printers and computers, while wonderful in their ability to make us work faster and more efficiently, can make a building unhealthy place for people. A close examination of the location of equipment can provide some relief from the heat, chemicals and noise it emits.

In addition to heat, chemicals and noise, a machine's thirst for electricity causes exposure to 60 Hertz fields and other frequencies. As Kenneth Block, senior partner with LePatner, Block, Pawa and Rivelis wrote in the March 4 issue of REW, "The effects of electrical and magnetic fields (EMF) on the general public - and specifically their impact in the workplae - are becoming a matter of public concern."
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Building Management, Section I
Author:Tiss, Gerry
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Mar 25, 1992
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