The building I live in or work in is making me sick. Can the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) test the building?

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) receives many inquiries regarding "testing" of environments. It is important to note that random testing for unknown substances causing unidentified or poorly defined ailments is generally neither helpful, sound public health practice, or even scientifically or logistically possible.

The word "testing" is often used by the public in a nonspecific way. However, when the word is used scientifically it can refer to numerous different procedures by many different kinds of laboratories to discover thousands and thousands of different agents. Categories of agents include biological, chemical, and radiological; and, within each of these categories there are many different subcategories of agents. For example, biological agents include bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and molds. Each of these subcategories is further divided into individual agents (species) each of which may require a very different and very specific test or series of tests to detect. For some agents, there may not be any scientifically accepted tests.

The investigation of any link between the environment and human illness should begin with a clear medical diagnosis. Therefore, the ECDOH recommends that individuals concerned about symptoms, or other health complaints, should first see their health care provider for further evaluation, and if warranted, referral to a specialist. If a diagnosis can be made, AND if the condition has been shown scientifically to have a potential environmental cause, then focused testing of the environment MAY be of benefit. However, testing is rarely indicated and would need to be done by a third party since the ECDOH does not routinely test buildings

It is also important to note that an individual case of any given disease generally should not trigger an environmental investigation. A situation in which there are abnormally increased numbers of individuals with the same diagnoses who have a common link to an environment (e.g., co-workers) MAY warrant an environmental investigation. Although household members share a common environment, a common ailment could be related to genetics rather than the environment. Epidemiological evaluation and complex statistical analysis is often necessary to determine whether the number of individuals with the same diagnosis is abnormally increased, or just the expected incidence in the community (i.e., background incidence).

The ECDOH can only address and enforce conditions that are regulated by public health law. Building maintenance is the responsibility of the property owner; and, the role of the ECDOH in owner-occupied dwellings is very limited. There are home inspection companies that may offer "sick building" evaluations and may be able to provide consultation or testing. You may find these companies listed in the telephone book or in other sources. For more information about sick building syndrome and building related illnesses please go to EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/sbs.html.