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Diesel Emissions and Allergy

Dr Kagen:

I am a computer systems project manager who started a new job 6 months ago - and developed contact dermatitis on my face 2 months ago, which I am sure is related to the very, very sick building I am working in.

I would like copies of any professional articles on diesel emissions and allergy as I believe that such emissions play a key role in the problem at work. Our building, which dates from 1930, not only has very active elevators which bring trucks up in them but also very large freight elevators which open on to enclosed truck bays where, because of the narrow street, tractor trailers and other trucks need to back in and out until they are parked correctly. Guess where I think their emissions go? My brother, who is an analytical chemist, believes that, given the poor ventilation system, we have a chemical smog. Just before I developed the dermatitis, they put down new carpeting. Carpet glue is a known sick building contributor. And they bleach cleaned the air ducts. And shampooed the carpets...

I am seeing a doctor at an environmental clinic and have just bought a $500 HEPA/activated charcoal air filter specially treated to increase chemical adhesion that is about 10 times more powerful than my office requires - and I put up a plastic door to keep the filter working at maximum effectiveness. So, while I'll probably be OK, I am learning about a frighteningly high rate staff with problems which I suspect are environmentally related - very elevated liver function, asthma, dermatitis, Legionnaire's Disease (!!) - and that's just what I've heard about. I finally wrote enough memos requesting Material Safety Data Sheets and quoting OSHA regs that they brought Health and Safety in, who left muttering "emergency" - but senior staff still aren't taking the problem seriously.

So, anything you can send me or that I could look up would be most helpful. I'm being cautious about how I proceed so I don't go from having a problem to being the problem. My friends are already calling me Karen Silkwood...

Many, many thanks!

Dear Anna:

You have described a situation of a high risk building and work place for the development of environmental illnesses due in large part not from organic aeroallergens but from toxic emissions. The best approach is to make an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms by consulting with a Board Certified Allergy/Immunology Specialist in your area who is interested in these issues. Not all Specialists have an interest in evaluating "sick building" patients since it does take a great deal of time and commitment.

Beware of "environmental" doctors. They have good intentions, but do not base their decisions upon accepted scientific reasoning.

You have an obligation to involve OSHA. OSHA will evaluate your work place setting and may be your best ally.

There are many articles written about tight or sick building syndrome. However, your best source will be the Allergy Specialist you see, hopefully soon. You may locate a recent article on this subject by searching and typing in "Emil Bardana, M.D. AND sick building syndrome".

To Find a Specialist, telephone 1-800-822-2762. I hope this info is useful to you and your coworkers. Please let me know how things are going.

Good luck.

Steve Kagen, M.D.