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Remedying Sick Building Syndrome With Green Cleaning

Similar to outdoor pollution, an unhealthy interior environment can have a negative impact on your overall health and wellbeing.

December 12, 2012

Some of the most hazardous air you’ll ever breathe probably isn’t billowing out from a factory smokestack or car exhaust pipe — it’s more than likely hiding out in your workspace.

Most city dwellers spend less than an hour outside per day; the rest of their time is spent either at work, at home or in transit.

And, since the 1970s oil crisis, strict energy-saving measures have resulted in less building ventilation.Sick Building Syndrome Symptoms

This, coupled with an increased use of synthetic materials and products, has led to higher concentrations of indoor pollution. 

Similar to outdoor pollution, an unhealthy interior environment can have a negative impact on your overall health and wellbeing.

This phenomenon has been investigated for the past several decades and appropriately labeled sick building syndrome (SBS).

SBS refers to a set of symptoms experienced predominantly by people working in poorly ventilated buildings.

The most common symptoms of SBS include headaches, eye, nose or throat irritation, itchy skin, dry cough, nausea, dizziness or sensitivity to odors.

These symptoms can appear on their own or in combination with one another and may vary greatly on a daily basis.

Different individuals may also have different symptoms.

A common theme among workers is that these acute health problems usually begin to fade away after exiting the “sick” building.                                                                                                                             

How Green Cleaning Can Help

Traditional cleaning products have been recognized as exacerbating the problem — along with other chemicals, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) issues and building design flaws.

Though cleaning is only one of several contributing factors, it can still play an integral role in the solution to poor indoor air quality (IAQ).

When choosing green cleaning supplies, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

Some cleaning jobs will respond best to products that are more alkaline or acidic than green cleaning supplies can provide.

The key isn’t necessarily to eliminate all chemicals; rather, the goal is to limit unnecessary pollutants.Sick Building Syndrome Stethoscope

Green cleaning is about more than less toxic formulations; it is also defined by housekeeping practices.

Airborne dust can be reduced and IAQ improved through a variety of green practices, including:

  • Using disinfectants only where required
  • Changing mop heads and sponges on a daily basis
  • Placing entry mats at every doorway
  • Using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum
  • Damp mopping instead of sweeping
  • Dusting with a microfiber cloth or cloth-covered feather duster
  • Using a medium-speed machine while buffing.

According to a study conducted by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “An organized cleaning program based upon environmental management principles and fundamental environmental protection guidelines contributed to improved IAQ through reduction of total suspended particles, total volatile organic compounds and culturable bacteria and fungi.”

Studies have shown that, by taking steps to reduce these undetected hazards, facilities managers and custodial supervisors can positively affect worker productivity and performance, as well as decrease the adverse health effects related to sick building syndrome.