Sick-Building Syndrome - Fresh Air, Stench of Profits


Sick-Building Syndrome - Fresh Air, Stench of Profits
reprinted from
The People
December 9, 1995



Amal Kumar Naj, writing in the Oct. 26 issue of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, offered readers a dismal assessment of current efforts to remedy "sick-building syndrome." "Zilch" summarizes his conclusions, and workers anticipating relief are counseled, in effect, not to hold their breath. This is the inescapable conclusion easily read between the lines, as inescapable as is the need for socialism to remedy the problem.

"Scientists have identified more than 1,500 bacterial and chemical indoor air pollutants from such sources as carpets and office machines," Naj reported. A malaise that carries the symptoms of a cold virus often breaks out in buildings with sealed windows and artificially induced air changes.

"Sick-building syndrome" has been identified with gases emanating from such new building products as carpeting, wall coverings, and spandrel board used for cabinetry and millwork products. Now electronic office equipment has also entered the picture.

The introduction of electronic office machines designed to increase office worker efficiency has produced the opposite effect in many workplaces. The culprits are wet-process photocopiers dispensing aliphatic hydrocarbons, toner and ozone; ink bubble-jet printers dispensing ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs); and computer terminals discharging ozone and VOCs. The presence of these products, and others like them, reflects the age-old and callous disregard for the health of workers, the perennial pursuit of profit at any cost, and the total anarchy of the capitalist market. They also tend to throw into sharp relief the puny efforts of capitalist regulatory agencies, which are ever vulnerable to manipulation by the powerful corporations responsible for the offending products. Mr. Naj offers nothing to even suggest that manufacturers should clean up their "act," or stop producing polluting products, thereby discharging his duty to reflect THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S class orientation.

With the proliferation of computer technology into offices and homes, the health problems of workers can only be expected to grow. James Woods, professor of architecture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, estimates that 30 percent of the country's 4.5 million office and public buildings have air- handling systems inadequate to mitigate indoor air pollution.

Mechanical engineers can design filtration devices into air- handling units to eliminate some errant substances. Developers and building owners refuse to pay for upgraded equipment in older buildings with large units, or for the "upcharges" on such equipment in newer buildings. Reducing costs and increasing profits, having been placed on par with the Ten Commandments, one owner, speaking for his ilk nationwide, declared: "The simple fact of life is that if I put in the best technology and I want a dollar more per square foot, I wouldn't get it, not even close to it." Hal Levin, a Santa Cruz architect, confirmed the prevalent attitude in observing, "I have had many clients who were truly interested in addressing the issue of indoor air quality, but as the projects went along it didn't stay a high priority."

Assuming indoor air could be adequately filtered, what of outdoor air from which inside air obviously comes? According to Art Kesten, associate director of research for United Technologies Corporation, filtering, or increasing the volume of outdoor air mixed with recirculated air, as some advocate, is not the answer. He noted there are not only increased energy costs but the free air brought in is often as polluted as that circulating within, proving the point that capitalism stinks whether one is indoors or outdoors.

The JOURNAL article exhibits a characteristic finger-pointing exercise that often breaks out between capitalists with opposing material interests. The office equipment capitalists want their equipment to be remedied by building air-handling systems while the building owners want the manufacturers to solve the problem.

Neither is moving with any notable speed toward a resolution, but the EPA is thinking about it. Their air-quality control spokesman and research director, Kevin Teichman, "hopes" that "an aggressive information program will prompt some action" on the part of manufacturers.

This pathetic remark comes from an agency whose primary existence is predicated on creating the illusion that the national and global reduction of the planet to a moonscape by capitalism is being addressed. Workers needn't fret! They can go to bed nightly assured that the EPA is fearlessly defending their interests and those of posterity.

Contrary to what is suggested by the title the JOURNAL gave to Naj's article ("Squabbles Delay Cure of 'Sick' Office Buildings"), it is not disagreements among capitalist buyers and suppliers of office equipment that are delaying the cure of "sick-buildings syndrome." Trivializing the problems of capitalism is the JOURNAL'S stock in trade. "Sick-buildings syndrome" is another health affliction visited upon the working class by "brother" capital. It is symptomatic of a profound conflict between the needs of the mass of society itself -- the working class -- and those of the minority capitalist class. The "cure" of this malady, as well as innumerable others, is to remove the obstacles to a fundamental restructuring of the workplace. In short: Capitalism is the cause, and socialism is the solution.