The operation and maintenance of commercial and public buildings can affect their accessibility for people with asthma and multiple chemical and/or electromagnetic sensitivities. The presence of many products or conditions involved in cleaning, maintaining, using, and operating buildings often contributes to poor indoor environmental quality and are access barriers for these individuals.
Problematic substances include, but are not limited to, pesticides, fragrances, disinfectants, many cleaners and new building materials and furnishings, and smoke and other engine exhaust. Inadequate ventilation of a building further contributes to poor indoor environmental quality.
The presence of electromagnetic fields from office equipment and other sources is a barrier for those with electromagnetic sensitivities. Noise and vibration can adversely affect some people with chemical and/or electromagnetic sensitivities and trigger seizures in susceptible individuals.
Measures taken to improve indoor environmental quality, such as reducing air pollutants, noise and electromagnetic fields in buildings, will increase their accessibility for people with asthma and chemical and/or electromagnetic sensitivities, as well as provide a more healthful environment for all building occupants.
While "green" and "environmentally-friendly" practices and products for construction and maintenance of buildings sometimes provide more healthful indoor environments and improves access for those with asthma and multiple chemical sensitivities, this is not always the case. The U.S. EPA notes that there is growing concern that standards being promoted by the green building movement, such as Green Seal and Green Guard standards, are not sufficiently protective of health (1).
For example, some measures recommended to promote energy and water conservation—such as reducing outdoor air supplied and/or reducing time of HVAC usage, using motion sensors that can create electromagnetic fields, using waterless urinals that require continuous chemical treatments, recommending cold water for cleaning, and promoting the use of alcohol hand wipes instead of hand washing—can cause or lead to increased indoor pollution and less healthful and accessible environments.
In addition, "greener cleaners" often promote the use of citrus- and/or pine-based products, which can react with even low levels of oxidants, such as ozone, to produce hazardous byproducts, as well as make buildings inaccesible for many people with chemical sensitivities. The addition of either synthetic or natural fragrances to cleaning and other products is also problematic for chemically sensitive individuals.
Other common green building recommendations, such as building on brownfields, using tuck-under parking, and putting heliports or gardens on roofs can also lead to diminished indoor air quality and create barriers for people with chemical sensitivities.
Lastly, the green building community has yet to provide guidance on the issue of electromagnetic fields.