Diagnosing a sick building

Towson: The complicated process of determining whether office building is unhealthy begins.

June 13, 2000

EMPLOYEES at the Investment Building in Towson may be closer to getting some well-deserved answers about the health of their workplace. It's refreshing to see that state and Baltimore County officials are no longer taking workers' claims lightly.

Inspectors from the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health thoroughly examined the building last week and will prepare a report on their findings. This should be the first step in a long and complicated process to determine whether environmental conditions in the 13-story office tower are the source of employee illnesses.

Undertaking a detailed health survey of the approximately 700 state and county employees and their ailments should be the next step. Anecdotal evidence suggests that employees are suffering from asthma, allergies and other respiratory illnesses that may be the result of conditions in the 34-year-old building. More definitive information is needed to establish whether there are indeed clusters of employees sharing similar symptoms and suffering from similar illnesses.

If there are, researchers will have to determine whether environmental conditions in the building are responsible. That will be no easy task. Inspectors may find readily identifiable microbes or fungi that are known to cause illnesses. It is also possible that other, less obvious, conditions may be behind the workers' ailments.

It is also possible an investigation will not be able to determine the cause of these worker maladies. In many cases, the science is not precise enough to pinpoint an environmental cause and the steps needed to resolve the workers' health problems.

Regardless, state and county officials need to keep all the Investment Building employees abreast of the progress of their investigations. Periodic bulletins updating workers are likely to alleviate some of their concerns. These status reports should improve employee morale and may even improve their productivity.

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