I have a close friend whose workplace is making her sick. She has a headache daily and has even experienced bruising and a weird swelling of her left eye. Now here’s the kicker: she works at one of our local middle schools. Feeling sick because of your workplace is a scary scenario for sure, but you have to know my friend Lyn: she’s not one to get sick, quit her job, and leave the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) dangling in the atmosphere for all the unsuspecting children to breathe. She speaks out; God love her.

She is currently in the process of getting to the bottom of the problem. Through her relentless pursuit of a solution, the powers that be at the school are doing atmospheric testing. It turns out that because of a massive renovation that the school underwent a few years ago, the VOC Bogeyman may have been triggered.

Lyn’s symptoms are classic “sick building syndrome.” SBS describes health problems that can occur through exposure to indoor pollutants in a home, office, or any other building. SBS is typically caused by pollutants such as mold, radon gas, smoke, or any number of chemicals. Symptoms can include headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, cough, fatigue, or eye and skin irritations. These symptoms often will disappear when occupants are outside the building — such as when Lyn was on Christmas break a few months ago.

When Organic Doesn’t Mean Safe

So what, exactly, are volatile organic compounds? Well, first off, not everything labeled “organic” is good. VOCs are organic chemicals that form gases at room temperature. They contain elemental carbon, which is why they are called “organic.” Hydrocarbons have both hydrogen and carbon atoms and may include benzene and toluene (both cancer-causing agents). VOCs are emitted by a variety of products, and we owe it to ourselves and to our clients to be aware of what products are chosen and used in the remodeling process.

We need to become educated and conscious consumers.

If not, your child or grandchild could be attending a toxic school. Kathy Shertzer is office manager at DuKate Fine Remodeling, in Franklin, Ind.

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