“ With Sick Building Syndrome new buildings are being designed and erected which can slowly poison the occupants. Is the cocktail of chemical compounds the new asbestos? ” *
* W.T.Kidd 2011
Toxins in PVC
Many vinyl products contain additional chemicals to change the chemical consistency of the product.
Can leach out of vinyl products. Plasticizers that must be added to make PVC flexible have been additives of particular concern.
Other vinyl products including shower curtains and flooring initially release chemical gases into the air.
The use of DEHP on shower curtains, among other
uses has been banned and Toyota, Nissan, and
Honda have eliminated PVC in their car interiors
starting in 2007.
Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) report on PVC: "no single material shows up as the best across all the human health and environmental impact categories, nor as the worst" but that the "risk of dioxin emissions puts PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts.“
Widespread use of PVC in modern homes - for vinyl flooring, vinyl wallpapers, shower curtains, window frames, and electrical equipment including cable and wire insulation etc means building fires will probably involve PVC products.
The hydrochloric acid formed when PVC is burned,
can lead to life threatening lung damage and
causes serious corrosion to buildings.
Toxins in Textiles
When cellulosic materials, either textiles or wood products, are burned the only gases formed are CO, (carbon monoxide), CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H2O (water).
Although carbon dioxide can cause suffocation, the dangerous material is carbon monoxide, which poisons the bloodstream in much the same way as cyanide.
In well-developed building fires, there is almost always a shortage of oxygen and larger amounts of the much more toxic CO are produced.
Some synthetic fibres, such as polyester, also produce these
three gases when burned. Other fibres, such as polyamides
(nylon) or acrylics, contain nitrogen and are thus theoretically
capable of producing other toxic gases during burning.
Flame-retardants in upholstered furniture
All upholstered furniture, sold in UK needS to be fire retardant to ignition by a cigarette, a small flame like match. Risks due to the presence of flame-retardants in upholstered furniture:
The risk of exposure to flame-retardants during manufacture of the products
2. The risk of exposure to flame-retardants under normal living conditions. This risk mainly results from accumulation of release flame-retardants in indoor air and/or skin contact and migration of substances;
3. The environmental risk during recycling or incineration of the products;
4. The risk of increasing emissions of toxic gases from accidental fires due to cigarettes or matches on upholstered furniture.
There requirements can reduce the fire risks, but toxicity risks due to flame retardant systems are not demonstrated.
Toxins in Paint
Solvent emissions in a gallon of paint are up to ninety percent less compared to twenty-five years ago, However, most paints still contain harmful fumes if inhaled or absorbed.
Low levels of vapours from either formaldehyde, benzene, butane, propane, and fluorinated hydrocarbons found in can or spray paints are released on a daily basis for the first thirty days after application.
Lead-based paint: Over eighty percent of homes built before 1978 still have lead paint in them.
If lead-based paint is disturbed by sanding, scraping,
or abrading, fumes and particles may be produced.
These fumes and paint chips, if inhaled or ingested
over time, can cause lead poisoning and change
Toxins in Leather
Leather coatings are binders, lacquers, colouring agents, solvents (organic substances, water) and additives (surface active substances, waxes, oils, cross-linking agents for water-based systems and other chemicals).
Various resin types can be used as binders e.g. acrylics, butadienes, polyurethanes and vinyl acetates. Solvent based resins are used for special effect coatings and to achieve particular requirements (for example, to preserve the appearance of leather which is subject to wet-rubbing and wet flexing or to increase the permeability of the leather). The most commonly used binders are water-based resins (purchased as powder or dissolved in sodium hydroxide and other chemicals).
CONVENTIONAL SOLVENT-BASED COATINGS CONTAIN:
80 – 90 % VOC (volatile organic compound)
while reduced organic solvent systems (e.g. water dilatable lacquer emulsions) contain ~40 % VOC.
WATER BASED COATINGS CONTAIN:
0 - 15 % VOC (e.g. ethyl acetate)
but most commonly used water-based lacquers contain 5 – 8 % VOC.
Toxins in New Carpeting
New carpets contain 'volatile organic compounds' VOC's. Including: toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, acetone and a large amount of other chemicals, some of which have already made the EPA's list of Extremely Hazardous Substances.
Known carcinogens such as p- Dichlorobenzene are in new carpets, as are chemicals that produce fetal abnormalities in test animals.
The 'new carpet smell' comes from 4-PC, associated with eye, nose and upper respiratory problems that are suffered by many new carpet owners. 4-PC is used in the latex backing of 95% of US carpets.
Moth proofing chemicals contain naphthalene, which is known to produce toxic reactions, especially in newborns.
Fire retardants often contain PBDE's which are known to cause damage to thyroid, immune system and brain development functions in humans.
Toxins in Old Carpeting
Older carpets may contain the chemicals banned from more recent production, and they also have had years to accumulate pounds of dust mites, dirt, pesticides and other toxins brought in on shoes, feet and pet's paws.
Carpet can hold 8 times it's weight in toxin filled dirt. The EPA has stated that 80% of human exposure to pesticides happens indoors.
Chemicals settle in the rug and stay there for years. If the room has been painted the curing paint leaves its VOC's in the carpet for you to inhale long after the walls no longer smells of paint.
Older carpets are so toxic that your chances of being exposed to hazardous chemicals are 10-50 times higher in a carpeted room than outdoors. If the carpet is plush or shag, your risk increases substantially.
Moisture and Ventilation
Indoor air pollution is responsible for the death of 1.6 million people – that’s one death every 20 seconds.
As homes become more energy efficient, hazardous chemicals remain trapped in the home with no means to escape.
Today’s energy saving measures, have resulted in tightly sealed houses having no natural ventilation. Creates a build up of water vapour until condensation occurs.
This can lead to serious health
problems caused by the growth of
Moisture, Ventilation and Insulation
Not every property that has been insulated will have this problem of toxic mould but some properties where insulation has been installed in a negligent or misinformed manner the problem might occur as ventilation routes become blocked.
Where the cavity has been bridged due to incorrectly installed insulation moisture could become trapped in the cavity and it becomes a breeding ground for toxic mould to grow.
Another example of where toxic mould can grow
due to poor ventilation is in a property with
suspended timber floors. If the air bricks on the
property, ventilating the floor void are poorly
maintained and the void is damp it again becomes
a perfect breeding ground for toxic mould to grow.
Indoor air quality issues associated with exposure to moulds and their metabolites, mycotoxins, are becoming of increasing importance.
Sexually mature fungi produce large numbers of spores that when airborne can be inhaled and deposited on the mucosal surface of the upper airways and in the eyes. Occupants of buildings may be affected in any of a number of ways.
The commonest problem is Allergic reactions such as rhinitis, eye irritation, cough and aggravation of asthma.
Most common is Stachybotrys chartarum, a slimy,
greenish-black mould that grows on moisture-laden
materials that contain cellulose, such as wood, paper,
drywall, and other similar products.
Radon is a gas that has no colour, odour or taste and comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in the ground.
You can be exposed to radon by two main sources:
Radon in the air.
Radon in drinking water.
Why is radon a health concern?
Breathing radon in indoor air can cause lung cancer.
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe it. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and increase your chances of developing lung cancer.
About 2,500 deaths a year in the United Kingdom are caused by breathing radon in indoor air.
Only about 1 to 2% of radon in the air comes from drinking water. Some radon stays in the water; drinking water containing radon also presents a risk of developing internal organ cancers, primarily stomach cancer.
Sick building syndrome
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a poorly understood phenomenon where people in particular work environments have a range of non-specific, building-related symptoms.
Nausea (feeling sick)
Aches and pains
Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
Loss of concentration
Shortness of breath
Sensitivity to odours
Eye, nose and throat irritation
Skin irritation (skin rashes, dry itchy skin)
Who is affected by SBS?
Anyone can be affected, but office workers are most at risk. This is because people who work in offices do not usually have control over their working environment. They are often employed in routine work that involves using display screen equipment.
Women appear to be more likely to develop the symptoms of SBS than men. However, this may be due to more women being employed in offices rather than a higher susceptibility.
No single cause has been identified. However, most experts believe that SBS may be the result of a combination of different factors.
Possible risk factors for SBS may include:
High temperature or changes in temperature throughout the day
Airborne pollutants, such as dust, carpet fibres or fungal spores
Chemical pollutants, such as cleaning materials
Poor standards of cleanliness in the working environment
Poor lighting that causes glare or flicker on visual display units (VDUs)
Ozone produced by photocopiers and printers
Working with display screen equipment for prolonged periods of time
Psychological factors, such as stress or poor staff morale