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NY Assembly launches sick building probe.

Warning that more than 150,000 office workers in Nassau County alone may be suffering from "sick building syndrome, "Long Beach Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a member of the State's Environmental Conservation Committee, opened hearings today into the problem and the search for possible solutions.

"Since the Oil Embargo of 1973, energy conservation measures have made office buildings tighter and tighter. The problem is, only a small percentage of the newer buildings have used technology to ensure that |tighter' doesn't mean sicker. Even the federal EPA building in Washington and the building that houses the New York State Department of Taxation are afflicted with a situation where recirculated microbes and bacteria are making employees ill."

The hearings were hosted by the New York State Assembly Committees on Health and Environmental Conservation, at The Garden City Center, at 100 Quentin Roosevelt Boulevard, in Garden City, Long Island. where high-tech scrubbers and computers monitor the air.

"At a time when more and more of the tri-state region's economy is based in hermetically sealed glass boxes, this hearing is crucial to preserving New York's health and competitive edge," the Assemblyman said.

Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, noted that sick building syndrome has been rising in recent years, and with more than 35 million office workers in the United States, spending seven or more hours indoors at work.

The American Lung Association estimates an annual loss $100 billion as a result of medical costs and lost productivity directly caused by poor indoor air quality.

But the problem of sick building syndrome is not a license to litigate, according to Dr. Stanley Pierce, a lawyer-scientist with the law firm of Rivkin, Radler and Kremer. He warned, "People who complain about exposure to chemical exposure on the job more often that not are suffering from some other problem that may include psychosomatic. Claiming a building is making someone sick on the job does't' make it so. Developers and employers are not going to become easy targets for lawsuits as a result of focusing on the problem."

Joseph Driscoll, an executive of the Builders and Owners Managers Association, displayed a gas mask at the hearing, stating, "This is not supposed to become part of the office attire of the 1990's. Sick building syndrome among older buildings must be controlled."

Up until the mid 1970's, codes dictated that the quantity of outdoor air required to dilute indoor pollutants for an office building was 10 to 15 cfm (cubic feet per minute) per person. In response to the soil oil crises, the code was reduced down to 5 cfm per person, a substantial reduction of outside air. This, along with tighter building construction, led to the so called "sick building syndrome.

To emphasize that technology is available to combat the crisis, the hearing is being held in a building whose nine month old filtration system is capable of removing 99.9 percent of all particles, including pollen, dust, and mold and 92 percent of bacteria.

Driscoll notes, "These particles that usually pass through an older building's filters range in size from .4 to 5 microns which allows them to be inhaled, bypassing the body's natural defenses. Also due to their small size, they have non-settling characteristics and are normally recirculated many times in the normally office building."

Gary Schoenberger, vice president of Operations for William Penn Life Insurance, explained that productivity and employee health are intermeshed. "A corporation's annual operating budget allocates only 5 percent to 7 percent for rent. Usually more than 70 percent is salary and employee benefits. A 5 percent productivity increase translates into a 3.5 percent savings for the firm or 50 percent-70 percent of the rent," he stated.

Assemblyman Weisenberg said state legislation is expected to be written as a result of this hearing to "ensure that the office workers of the State of New York are protected on the job from the problem of microbes that work 9 to 5."
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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