Statistically, most of you either work in an office, or will at some point. Hell, most of you are probably in an office right now.
So how are you feeling today? A little run-down maybe? Feel a headache coming on? Maybe a little congested? Would you believe us if we told you it's the office itself that's making you sick?
Because that's what the scientists are saying. You can thank...
We're not even going to discuss how encrusted with germs your keyboard and desk phone are (we already wrote an entire separate article on that). But don't worry, that's just the beginning.
They call it Sick Building Syndrome--that's even what the EPA calls it. The thing is, once upon a time office buildings were built to let in a certain amount of fresh air. Since, you know, it's widely thought that air is something you need to live.
But then the 1970s hit and suddenly energy conservation was all the rage. That's why the windows in your office probably don't open, and why every crack and gap is sealed so tight you could probably set the building on the ocean floor and everybody would stay dry. The result is buildings that are great about keeping their temperature stable, but horrible at recycling air. They inhale pollutants via the air conditioning systems, but don't let them back out--to the point that the air inside that building can be up to 100 times dirtier than what you breathe outside.
If you're wondering how OSHA and other agencies let this go on, it's because all of their rules were written for shops that work with dangerous, smelly chemicals, rather than offices. There are no real standards to protect the cubicle-dwellers. As a result, for years office workers were coming down with strange symptoms no one could pin down to any actual illness. In 1984 no less than the freaking World Health Organization determined that at least 30 percent of buildings in the world were subject to "excessive complaints" about air quality. What kind of complaints?
Look up. See that ventilation duct? That most likely ends up over your parking lot. The lot that a whole bunch of cars drove into this morning. Now all that lovely, poisonous carbon monoxide they produced is slowly making its way into your lungs.
Is the building you work in more than 10 years old? Then the chances are there is black mold somewhere in the place, especially if you live in a very wet or humid area. Black mold releases Volatile Organic Chemicals which are toxic to humans. Thousands of people suffer from black mold poisoning every year. Symptoms range from coughing to memory loss to infertility. Again, if you find it in your house, you can scrub it with Pine-Sol and open up a window. If it's growing within the walls of your air-tight office? Good luck.
Of course, even if they clean up the mold, you still have to contend with...
Did you ever notice that funny smell that comes from the photocopier? That's ozone and the EPA warns that even inhaling small amounts can lead to "chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation." Don't worry though, because the manufactures know this and your ancient photocopier was built with a filter to deal with the ozone it produces and... when was the last time someone changed that filter? Because they deteriorate over time and become useless. So all that deadly ozone is slowly filling up the copy room.
They are coming for you.
Your laser printer is no better. It emits ozone as well, but more importantly most laser printers give off tiny particles of toner. And just because they are tiny doesn't mean there aren't dangerous. Their size means they can make their way into the deepest parts of the lungs and can even enter the blood stream, possibly increasing your chances of cancer and heart disease.
The air you are breathing right now is seriously inundated with toner. A study found that one office had five times as many particles in the air during work hours as opposed to off hours.
So how bad is it, really? Well, at best it's like smoking a few cigarettes. Yes, that's the best case scenario. The worst case: You might as well be working in a coal mine. Excessive exposure to toner dust from printers and copiers can lead to siderosilicosis, a lung disease commonly found in miners.
"Can you have that report done after lunch?"