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.
You walk into Home Depot or Lowe's to pick up a lightbulb. Instead, you leave with some new flooring, a circular saw, a framing square, and big ideas about re-tiling your kitchen.
The problem? You've never done anything more than change a lightbulb by yourself.
Growing numbers of Americans are tackling do-it-yourself home improvement projects that once might have been left to professionals. One reason for the shift: Stores like Home Depot, along with TV shows on networks like HGTV or the DIY Network,...
"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.