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Experts finger tight building syndrome.

Experts finger tight building syndrome

"We were called in by authorities to investigate a series of complaints at the school," says Frank E. Speizer at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, in what could be the opening line of a "Dragnet" television show. Unlike the cops, Speizer and his team of epidemiologists weren't looking for a criminal but for clues to explain the rash of respiratory problems reported by students at a Boston-area high school.

The scientific crew interviewed students from the "index" school and compared their rates of illness to controls at a neighboring school with no respiratory complaints. They found 23 percent of non-smoking index students reported chronic cough compared with 8 percent of non-smoking control students; 27 percent had persistent wheeze compared with 8 percent of control students; and 21 percent reported a chest illness that had kept them out of school for at least a week compared with 5 percent of control students who reported a similar sickness.

At the same time, an environmental team implicated the index school's poorly designed ventilation system as the most likely cause of the higher rate of respiratory illness. Speizer admits the results could be explained if index students simply reported more illness because of the school's "sick building" reputation. Still, the types of illnesses reported are those commonly seen when stagnant air contains high amounts of dust, carbon dioxide and chemicals that can cause health problems, Speizer says. Meanwhile, the index school authorities are revamping the ventilation system. Speizer and his team plan another study after completion of the changes to see whether the respiratory symptoms decrease.
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Title Annotation:respiratory problems at a Boston-area high school
Author:Fackelmann, Kathy A.
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 9, 1990
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