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POOR DESIGN, DECORATION, VENTILATION GENERATE SICK-BUILDING SYNDROME

Poor building design and interior decoration can have detrimental health effects for people who spend a lot of time in such structures.

Pattie Heaton, an interior design instructor at Brigham Young University, focused on a phenomenon called "sick-building syndrome" during a recent green environments symposium sponsored by the school's interior design department. The symposium was created to help interior decorators use design to improve the environment.Sick-building syndrome affects 30 percent of buildings in the United States, and the problem is important to consider when designing and maintaining buildings, Heaton said. Especially when indoor air quality is concerned.

"Man is becoming an indoor species. This situation actually demands from us a new role and a new criteria as professional designers," she said.

The syndrome is a result of the energy crisis, Heaton said. Because of cost and conservation, designers created work and living areas with closed windows and less ventilation.

The result is a sickness with symptoms like headaches, coughing, dry skin, dizziness, fainting, nausea, fatigue and even eyesight impairment.

"These things often clear up when the affected person leaves the building," Heaton said.

But it seems to be more than just the interior of buildings that is affected, Heaton said. Utah buildings also have to contend with inversions.

"If you have no way to filter air on a high inversion day, you're just bringing the outdoor pollution inside," Heaton said.

One of Utah's worst buildings is the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, she said. "It was built in the late '60s and early '70s and didn't have the proper ventilation for large numbers of people," she said.

But sick-building syndrome is easily corrected once it is detected. "As we know more about it (the syndrome), people are making corrections," Heaton said.

"Everyone involved with designing, manufacturing, construction or maintaining a building is responsible for air quality," Heaton said.

Three ways to combat sick-building syndrome are careful site planning, material selection and careful building design.

"If you have a lot of traffic and cars going by, you have to take that into account. You also need to increase ventilation and analyze regional and local air quality," she said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has established an office to deal with problems arising from sick-building syndrome. If you think the building or office you work in is unsafe, the agency can provide testing and advice. Call 1-800-2TEST ME.