Even if you have not personally experienced Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) your probably know at least one person suffering with an illness that appears to the result of indoor environmental exposures. Some people use the term “MCS” standing for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity instead of SBS. No matter what you call it, the effects of environmental exposures can range from inconvenient to devastating for victims and their loved ones.
Solving the riddle of what the cause or the remedy for Sick Building Syndrome can become a lifetime struggle. If you ask what is the relationship between our bodies and the environment, the answer is the same as many relationships in life: Its complicated! Too often we do not get to the bottom of “complicated”.
It is Tough to Figure Out What Makes Us Ill
The first barrier to solving the healthy environment problem is that most environmental reactions happen in time delay. Our brain wiring is much better looking at things as cause-effect when they are occurring together. If we touch a burner on the stove, we feel pain. If we hit our thumb with hammer, we immediately feel the consequences of that action. We learn in real time that for those actions there is a predictable, consistent reaction. We also figure out to not do those things again.
Environmental exposures usually take time. We walk into a contamination, and may not feel ill for the first hours, days or weeks. Often we do not become ill from an exposure for years until our immunity is affected by another illness or aging.
Our bodies work hard to keep us from having health problems from short term or low level exposures to toxins. As an example, most municipal water authorities have traces of arsenic in the water we drink. Our bodies can usually process the small amount of arsenic and we get on with life with little disruption. Our liver and kidneys can push small amounts of the arsenic out of our bodies and lives. If we open a jar of arsenic and consume a large amount of arsenic at one time, we can become very ill if not dead.
“Time loading” is how environmental illness often occurs. What that means is that if we have a little arsenic each day, and we start accumulating more in our bodies so that the liver and can clean up that chemical mess, we will become ill. By the way, this explains why a person who spends more time in a sick building can become sick and others who spend less time there are not affected
January 15, 2018
Courtesy: Michael A. Pinto, CSP, SMS, CMP, CFO
Edited by Dan Howard, Envirospect
Testing, Identifying and Remediating for Chemically Sensitive Patients
Patients are increasingly being faced with the challenge of situations where chemically sensitive individuals are sick in their homes and there are few individuals understanding their challenges or able to help with creating a less toxic environment
While many professionals have some experience with individuals sensitive to specific contaminants like mold or spray-foam insulation, few are able to need the needs of people who may have a low tolerance for chemicals as well as specific contaminants.
There needs to be education and training of environmental professionals and medical practitioners on the specific cleaning techniques of source removal, neutralization, off-gassing, and oxidation.
Why Is This Subject Important?
One of confusing problems is that there are numerous terms used to identify the physical conditions associated with sensitivity. Two of the most common descriptors are “chemical intolerance” (CI) or “multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).
An interesting sidebar to the sensitization research was the realization that individuals who are sensitizable are more likely to be diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Chronic Fibromyalgia (CF), Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), and other previously mysterious maladies.
As the medical community continues research into this field, the focus has turned to the question about what role a person’s genetic make-upplays in their likelihood of becoming chemically sensitized. Depending on which study is reviewed, the data indicates that 15-30% of the general population are highly “sensitizable”. The researchers come to these numbers by evaluating large groups of people and measuring their heart rate, blood pressure, and immune system allergic response markers.
There is a correlation of certain factors that may play a role in sensitization. These include a family history of sensitization, certain exposures and health history
Acute Or Chronic Exposures; It Is Still Chemicals
This research into susceptibility is starting to answer some lingering questions in the field of chemical sensitization. Many cases have demonstrated that a big “trigger event”, such as exposure to a chemical as a result of an accidental release, will cause chemical sensitization in a very large percentage of the exposed population. But, even in that sort of scenario only a portion of the people exposed will develop any long-term sensitivity to the initial chemical or a broader range of chemicals. The distinctions in individuals developing a reaction are even more pronounced if the trigger event is a chronic situation, one where the exposure happens a little at a time over a period of weeks or months.
Of course, the primary cause of chemical sensitivity is exposure to chemicals. However, controlling chemical exposure, especially for children, is increasingly difficult because more chemicals are being added to our lives every day. Some of the main sources of chemical exposure include off-gassing from building products, use of personal care items, building contents and furnishings, packaging supplies, food, and residual chemical contamination in our indoor and outdoor environment.
Compared to 40 or 50 years ago, most people have dramatically increased their exposure to chemicals. It is not just that people tend to spend more time indoors, a big factor is that buildings are constructed to be more air tight. In addition to increased energy efficiency, that trend of tighter buildings trap more of the chemicals that are off-gassed. It also means that there is less dilution of small particles that are created during daily life activities and cleaning.
Cleaning To Address All The Chemical Transport Mechanisms
The simple reality is that dust and chemicals are present in our buildings. Contractors wishing to help individuals with chemical sensitivities by conducting specialized cleaning, or those who want to avoid problems by properly cleaning after a restoration activity, need to address both the chemicals and the dust. Modern house dust has a significant percentage of chemical solids as part of its makeup. In addition, many of the other dust particles, particularly those that are fibrous, absorb vaporous chemicals. That is why source removal, including the removal of residual built up dust, is key to addressing the concerns of chemically sensitized building occupants.
We all need to recognize that the number of chemicals and chemically sensitized people found in buildings are both growing at a significant rate. This is not a good combination. The frequency with which individuals are experiencing adverse reactions to chemicals is obvious evidence that there is a growing group which cannot tolerate the “normal” chemical load in today’s modern buildings. In those situations, the contaminants must either be cleaned or neutralized in order to protect or facilitate recovery of their health.