What makes a sick building? High levels of any threat may do the job. Diseases like Legionnaires Disease are the result of standing water and maintenance neglect. However, pathogens are not the most common sick building problem. Toxins are resident gases, chemicals, and pesticides are constantly added to every building, and there is no good process to remove or detoxify the residue.
Toxic buildings will affect people differently. Those with weaker immune systems, hyper-sensitivities, allergies, and chronic illnesses will always feel the impact of a semi-toxic or toxic building first. But the fact is that everyone is going to pay a price for working in a sick building. Like waves crashing on the shore, the soft materials erode first, but even the rocks wear away from the constant crashing on waves and sand.
The building materials can be part of the problem, the HVAC system is also a factor, but simple items like fragrances, sanitizing sprays, and chemicals used can add to the bio-load of the toxic condition. Paints, glues, floor stripping, floor finishes, polishes add yet another layer of chemical residue actually accumulate over time (bio-accumulation) to create a bio-load (overall contamination) of toxic contamination.
The cleaning service is more important than many may imagine. Every month, dozens of gallons of chemicals are brought into the building. They can be semi-Green or better than former cleaning products, but they do not all go down the drain or out in the dust after sweeping. Frankly, if you smell the cleaning products, you are probably smelling VOCs (Volatile Organic Chemicals) that evaporate into the air.
If you know about science, a compound may exist as a gas, liquid, or solid ... like water. Liquid chemicals come as liquids but escape into the air. Think of the bleach smell after cleaning with bleach. Pesticides, chemical fragrances, and floor stripping products add to the toxic bio-load. This air is constantly recirculated, but may reside in the dust, dirt, biofilm, carpets, and air ducts of the building for decades.
So, the answer is choosing a cleaning service trained and certified by the Green Clean Institute. GCI offers training and certification of the working crews, guidance to the management and purchasing agent, and the ability to grade and verify the the Green cleaning program of the building. If the cleaning is shown to be up to the GCI Twenty Elements for Green Cleaning, the building can qualify for the GCI Green Cleaned building award.