Heating All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day-to-day lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes, engaging in recreational activities, and being exposed to environmental pollutants all pose varying degrees of risk. Some risks are simply unavoidable. Some we choose to accept because to do otherwise would restrict our ability to lead our lives the way we want. And some are risks we might decide to avoid if we had the opportunity to make informed choices. Indoor air pollution is one risk that you can do something about.
In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within both residential dwellings and commercial facilities can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.
In addition, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
Significant air pollution in educational and health care facilities can arise from a variety of sources. For example, some of these buildings may be inadequately ventilated or mechanical ventilation systems may not be designed or operated to provide adequate amounts of outdoor air.
A number of well-identified illnesses, such as Legionnaire’s disease, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever, have been directly traced to specific building problems. These are called building-related illnesses. Most of these diseases can be treated—nevertheless, some pose serious risks.
Sometimes, however, building occupants experience symptoms that do not fit the pattern of any particular illness and are difficult to trace to any specific source. This phenomenon has been labeled sick building syndrome. People may complain of one or more of the following symptoms: dry or burning mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and throat; sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, fatigue or lethargy, headache, dizziness, nausea, irritability and forgetfulness. Poor lighting, noise, vibration, thermal discomfort, and psychological stress may also cause, or contribute to these symptoms.
There is no single manner in which these health problems appear. In some cases, problems begin as people enter the building and diminish as they leave; other times, symptoms continue until the illness is treated. Sometimes there are outbreaks of illness among many of the occupants in the facility; in other cases, health symptoms show up only in individuals.
In the opinion of some World Health Organization experts, up to 30 percent of new or remodeled commercial buildings may have unusually high rates of health and comfort complaints from occupants that may potentially be related to indoor air quality.
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