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Is Your Office Making You Sick?

Joel Kreisberg, DC

Disclosure: Joel Kreisberg, DC, is the director of education and service

development at Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit organization dedi- Resources
cated to “greening” healthcare.
• Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: www.
obacco smoke, mold, pesticides, chemical cleaners, radon,

T carbon monoxide, asbestos, formaldehyde, and lead—the

“short” list of the most common household contaminants.
Although concentrations of these toxicants may be small, we still
• American Lung Association, Air Quality: www.lungusa.

• The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric

have much reason to be concerned about the poor quality of
indoor air and its detrimental effects on our health. Sadly, the
average person will spend between 80% and 90% of his or her time • The Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor Air
indoors—be it home, car, or work—exposed to such contami- Pollution, An Introduction for Health Professionals:
nants. The green health professional is wise to keep a keen eye on
signs and symptoms of exposure.
Tobacco smoke: By far, data suggest that tobacco smoke is • Medline Plus NIH, Indoor Air Pollution: www.nlm.
the most common concern for indoor exposure. In particular,
secondhand tobacco smoke significantly impacts children’s
health, including upper- and lower-respiratory infections and • National Pesticide Information Center:
asthma attacks.1 The main solution is to keep homes smoke free,
asking family and guests to smoke outside. No-smoking zones in • The World Health Organization, Indoor Air Pollution:
cities throughout the United States have grown as urban plan-
ning has committed to reducing the risks of health effects from
tobacco smoke. • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
Biological contaminants: Molds are the most common Indoor Air Quality Information:
example of such contaminants. However, other biological con- airpollution/indoor_air.htm
taminants can include dust mites and pet dander along with
roaches and other small household pests, as well as microbio-
logical contaminants. Often these pollutants occur in areas of building products of the 20th century that have since been
our homes or offices that have excess moisture or the availability proven harmful to humans. Asbestos, commonly used for insu-
of food. To prevent such exposure, it is advised that cooking and lation, produces small enough dust particles to lodge deep in the
eating areas and any accompanying appliances are kept clean lungs and cause mesothelioma, a terminal cancer. Lead, while
and dry. In addition, proper ventilation is essential for keeping still used in wastewater systems, is now banned in paints and
biological pollutants from gaining hold in a building. plumbing; however, older homes can be problematic.
Pesticides and cleaners: These commonly used products Formaldehyde is a preservative that was found in wood treat-
are pollutants actively applied to our indoor and outdoor envi- ments including paneling and processed wood materials.
ronments, often without knowledge of the potential health Precaution is advised. Learning how old a building is can tell you
effects on sensitive people. The National Pesticide Information the possible risks of the buildings contaminants.
Center ( offers quick, easy access to the most Radon and carbon monoxide: These are odorless gases,
up-to-date information about pesticides. Data suggest that 75% common in homes or offices that have older furnaces, gas stoves,
of all households in the United States are contaminated with at or poorly designed foundations. If gas or solids are burned
least 1 pesticide.2 For their part, cleaning supplies often contain inside the home or office, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
chemicals that can negatively impact our health. Hence, reduc- is significant. A carbon monoxide detector, the simplest preven-
ing chemical exposure from pesticides and cleaners is a crucial tative measure, is critical for every kitchen and furnace area.
step to green health. One way to achieve this is through environ- Radon, a natural byproduct of uranium decaying within the
mental purchasing, which involves switching our purchasing earth’s mantle, is odorless and poisonous, and a detector must
choices from traditional chemical cleaners to office and house- be used to find it. Recent studies suggest that radon exposure is
hold cleaners that are nontoxic by design. responsible for 14 000 deaths in the United States every year.3,4
Asbestos, lead, and formaldehyde: All 3 are common Test kits can be purchased at a local hardware store.

48 Integrative Medicine • Vol. 8, No. 6 • Dec 2009/Jan 2010 Kreisberg—Green Medicine Tips
Lowering the Risk
Lowering risks of indoor exposures involves 3 measures:
source control, proper ventilation, and air cleaners. Checking
buildings for each indoor contaminant can easily be done and is
worth encouraging every patient to do. Proper ventilation is nec-
essary for maintaining a healthy indoor environment. Air clean-
ers or filters, while not required, are recommended for sensitive
patients or for buildings that need remediation or are located in
neighborhoods that have high exposure to air pollution.
In the United States, data suggest that 30 to 70 million
workers exhibit symptoms of sick-building syndrome.5
Symptoms of upper-respiratory distress, such as chest tightness
as well as lethargy, nasal congestion, dry throat, and headaches
can all be caused by indoor pollutants. Completing an environ-
mental exposure history with every patient is an essential task of
any medical clinician. The Agency of Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry (
door_pollution.html) has an easy-to-use series of case studies
that provide busy health professionals with the invaluable skills
of recognizing indoor air pollutions and exposure components,
as well as a guide to completing a work history or an environ-
mental history. The usefulness of these skills become clear as you
broaden your understanding of environmental impacts on
patients and family alike. Learn these skills well. It seems that
Americans will only continue to spend more time indoors.

Joel Kreisberg, DC, a chiropractor and clinical homeopath, is an adjunct

professor for the School of Holistic Studies at John F. Kennedy University in
Pleasant Hill, California. As mentioned in the disclosure, he is also the direc-
tor of education and service development for the nonprofit organization
Practice Greenhealth.

1. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic
Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. The
Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon
General. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2006.
2. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. The Inside
Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. Available at:
insidest.html#Look7. Accessed October 15, 2009.
3. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. EPA
Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes. June 2003. Available at: http://www.epa.
gov/radon/pdfs/402-r-03-003.pdf. Accessed October 15, 2009.
4. Oliver LC, Shackleton BW. The Indoor Air We Breathe: A Public Health Problem of the
90’s. Public Health Records, Sep-Oct 1998. US Department of Health and Human
Services. Available at:
Accessed October 15, 2009.

Kreisberg—Green Medicine Tips Integrative Medicine • Vol. 8, No. 6 • Dec 2009/Jan 2010 49