n April, inspectors at the Transportation Department revealed that the headquarters facility had become yet another victim of "sick building syndrome." Odors had forced several evacuations and workers constantly complained of ailments ranging from dizziness and headaches to throat irritation, itchy eyes, rashes and nausea. Medical surveys were conducted and investigators finally discovered problems in the building's air-handling system.
Certified industrial hygenists, who interpret air-quality test results, determined that the problem was caused by poor maintenance. A filthy air-handling system had been spewing high levels of contaminants into the indoor environment. The agency is spending more than $5 million to vacuum air ducts and clean the building.
The Transportation Department, like many federal agencies recently, found out that dirty air and poor circulation can have serious detrimental effects on productivity. Sickness resulting from exposure to benzene, radon, mercury, formaldehyde and lead can cause disruptive worker slowdowns. Even regular exposure to less serious allergens such as bacteria, mold spores, fungi and dust mites can cause frequent employee absences.
Indoor air pollutants can be derived from a number of sources, including cleaning solvents, pesticides, tobacco smoke, copy machines, new carpeting and foam insulation. As the Transportation Department discovered, regular maintenance plays a big role in combating air-quality problems. Filters on heating and air-conditioning units should be frequently cleaned and repaired immediately after damage is discovered. Facilities-management companies such as Honeywell, Johnson Controls and Landis and Gyr offer a wide variety of products designed to improve ventilation and give employees greater control over air flow and temperatures. Computer technology helps monitor air quality by generating temperature reports, office occupancy charts and energy-consumption summaries for single- and multiple-site facilities.
The Personal Environmental Module from Johnson Controls includes a desktop control panel that enables workers to select temperature, lighting and air flow for individual cubicles. The units produce "white noise" that creates a sense of privacy.