Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

             Imagine getting up each day feeling absolutely terrible. You dread facing another day.  You're unable to think clearly or plan your day. You have an overwhelming guilt that you're a terrible burden on those around you. A feeling of helplessness washes over you because you're unable to find your way out of this sickness.  You've been tested for all types of illnesses that nobody would ever want to have but you believe that even a dreaded diagnosis would be better than not knowing what has robbed you of a normal life. This is the life of an environmentally ill person..

                 We have accepted and understand that our diet affects our health. Billions of dollars are spent on ads to influence what we eat. We often don’t realize and understand that what we breathe, absorb through our skin or drink from a faucet or bottle can have a devastating effect on health. We don’t consider that for some people, our homes, schools, workplaces, drinking water or parks are toxic.   

                  Environmental illness is a terrible burden on those that suffer from it and their loved ones.  As a building scientist, I hear about this day after day. Like most professionals dealing with environmental illness, my involvement is because I've seen it first-hand.  I watched my father slowly suffocate to death because of his asbestos exposure. He sprayed the stuff to make buildings fire safe for others, not to have his lungs fill with cancer. Surprise!    

What is Environmental Illness?

              There are common symptoms with environmental diseases. There's often brain fog, numbness or pain, bowel issues, fibromyalgia, skin problems, missing hair, skin rashes, lethargy and confusion   Many have taken an endless list of prescription drugs designed to alleviate symptoms. Those prescriptions had side effects that create new symptoms. When those symptoms were treated with new treatments, more of the above symptoms occurred.   There's also the financial burdens and the emotional roller coaster of raised and then dashed hopes. Stress makes the symptoms even worse.  

             People with environmental illness have more than symptoms in common. Most have already visited many physicians. Some have been told that they have an “idiopathic disease” which is medical speak for “you have a set of symptoms that are similar to an illness, but we don’t know why or even if it is really true.” Others have been told that they must be imagining the illness. Almost all have their hopes of wellness dashed time and time again.  

                Often the biggest stress and challenge that the environmentally ill face is their friends or family members don't understand or believe that the illness is real. We know and accept that there are children who can eat a single peanut and go into anaphylactic shock. We understand that there are people that can react badly to the lifesaving drug penicillin. Despite this, some people can't understand how one person in a home could react to environmental problems while the others are still healthy.

Posted by Dan Howard on February 22nd, 2019 9:37 PM

Did you ever think that exposure to the environmental problems that make us sick is like hitting your thumb with a hammer……..but nobody can tell you what the hammer is?

We go and do so many different things and go so many places each day that it is often difficult to pinpoint what “is” or just as importantly what “is not” making us ill.

       Making all of this figuring out whether something in our environment is making us ill more of a puzzle is the fact that we react to environmental stresses in “time delay”. The difficulty is “time delay” is not how our brain usually works.

       Please let me explain: 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. Based upon that reaction, we each learn not to do those things. We learn in real time that for those actions there is a predictable, consistent and unpleasant reaction. We also figure out to not do those things again. However, I must admit that when I worked as a carpenter to get through college, that hitting fingers with a hammer happened a couple of times past the first. Before you judge that fact, I assure you that IT WAS NOT ON PURPOSE. Ouch.

        Environmental exposures are more complicated because they not only happen in time delay, but they also often occur in combinations of events. Our minds do not do well at processing the complex conditions and events that trigger environmental reactions.

       Keeping a diary of how you feel, where you are what you are doing and what you eat is probably the best tool for establishing health patterns that may predict sources of environmental reaction.

       As an example, a diary could show that you become ill 6 to 10 hours after a visit to a particular building, riding in and automobile, eating a particular food or a host of other events occurs. This can be a life changing tool.

      Based on that information, an assessment by a environmental specialist and testing of the area that appears to be the source of illness is the next step on the path to a return to good health

       Mold is one of the most common triggers for health issues. Allergens are another very common trigger. Testing for these issues is a prudent first step in the process of narrowing sources of environmental stressors
Posted by Dan Howard on May 12th, 2018 4:40 PM

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.

Trained professionals in the assessment, testing, cleaning and restoration industry can certainly rise to this challenge if they just take a few minutes to understand the needs of these potential clients and review their work procedures with the goal to properly service all of their customers, even if they are chemically sensitizable.
Posted by Dan Howard on April 8th, 2018 9:20 PM



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