Pat B., a web designer in upstate New York, didn't think much of it when she got a sinus infection the first week at her new job. Two months later, she got another one. Then the muscle cramping began. "I would try to walk at lunch time and my hips would cramp so bad I had to go back," she recalls. "As soon as I entered the building, it felt like the breath was sucked out of me."
After batteries of tests, she went on a leave of absence and the symptoms leveled off. When she returned, her throat started burning the minute she stepped into the building.
My father lived with me and my family during the last two years of his life while he sank ever deeper into Alzheimer’s disease.
His behavior was frequently bizarre. He might emerge from his bedroom with three of my son’s baseball caps piled on top of his head but wearing no pants. When trying to participate in a conversation, he might blurt out passionate pronouncements that made no sense at all. “Ya see, the individualism is something that’s not already formed,” he would bellow. “You gotta fight...
"The ceiling tiles were moldy, everything was wet," she says. "I could smell formaldehyde and so could one other person." Eventually, Pat was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, an ailment that had already killed a young, athletic male co-worker. She is convinced the building she worked in caused her illnesses.
The causes are many. In the 1970s, there was a movement amongst builders and regulatory authorities to button-up buildings to save on fuels for heating and air conditioning. Many buildings became virtually air-tight. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, some polluting factors include indoor combustion (heaters, ranges, smoking) and buildup of carbon monoxide and inhalable particles; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, styrene, and other solvents; and airborne-allergens and pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, spores, and protozoans. Added to that are new building materials (plywood, carpet glue) and fabrics (rugs, furniture) that "offgas" toxic fumes.