How Toxic Is My Office?


When it comes to worker’s compensation in Washington State, generally all we hear about is people being injured on the job after falling, getting burned by fire or chemicals, or getting caught in machinery. However, the reasonable expectation of a safe work environment does not end with construction sites, mines, and factories. Though certainly less injury prone of an environment overall, office environments carry their own potentially deadly hazards, namely toxins.

There are tons of different kinds of injuries that can happen that mitigate receiving L&I benefits in an office setting including carpal tunnel, falling filing cabinets, etc. However, what many workers don’t realize is that they could be injured just by breathing the toxic air around them.

Common Office Toxins

If you are reading this in your office, all you need to do is look around and see the various toxins. You’re sitting in them, typing on them, and all the while breathing them in. Now, this isn’t meant to freak anyone out because it’s something we all have to live with, but they exist. The difference between a safe work environment and an unsafe work environment is the levels of toxins.

Common office toxins are:

  • Cleaning Products – According to Copes, custodians and janitors exposed to high levels of some types of cleaning products experience stronger cases of asthma.
  • Radon – Basements and rooms under ground level are at risk for this natural radioactive gas. Radon is second only to tobacco as a leading cause of lung cancer.
  • Photocopiers – These machines emit low levels of ozone that can cause dizziness, fatigue, and respiratory problems.
  • Mold and Mildew – Water and moldy food can also be causes for poor indoor air quality. Water leaks can cause bacteria and mold to grow and old food introduces fungus and spores into the workplace.
  • PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) – These are industrial toxic chemicals, used to retard flame in consumer electronic plastics and furniture. Over the past 30 years, PBDES have been found in blood, breastmilk, and umbilical cord blood. Lab animals exposed to these toxins show deficits in learning and memory over time. PBDEs affect thryroid levels in laboratory animals and in wildlife, and may cause birth defects.
  • PFCs (polyfluorinated compounds) – This is a group of toxic chemicals released from carpeting, paint, furniture glues, water repellents and coverings, and other sources. It has been found that they build up in the body over time, and can take years for the body to metabolize and eliminate.

Certainly there are different factors such as environmental hypersensitivity and allergies that need to be taken into account, but for overall worker health the reduction in toxic chemicals in the workplace needs to be a conscious effort.

PFCs and PBDEs in the Workplace

In Washington State, the legislature has already addressed PBDEs by ordering a reduction in 2006. This effort, though not culminating quickly enough for workplace safety advocates like those at Phillips Law Firm and L&I, is currently making an impact. However, these types of moves always lead to other concerns, namely PFCs.

A new study from the journal Environmental Science and Technology reports that researchers found concentrations of a PFCs called fluorotelomer alcohol (FTOH) in office air that were 3-5 times higher than those reported in previous studies of household air, suggesting that offices may represent a unique and important exposure environment.

Effects from these compounds in animal studies have shown:

  • Reduced lipid metabolism
  • Reduced liver health
  • Lower rates reproduction
  • Weaker immune system
  • Lower birth weights
  • Higher cholesterol

What can the typical office worker do to limit exposure? Telecommuting when possible, working in outdoor areas, or bringing toxin-sucking plants to the office can all reduce the quantity of exposure to such chemicals.

Toxic Printers

One of the biggest concerns for alert office workers has been printers. There are some workers that have not changed printer cartages, but those who have know that the stuff that makes us able to see our work on paper is a black, powdered, toxic chemical that gets everywhere. They know that if you breath that fine powder, it can seriously effect your health.

Last week, Australian researchers confirmed those fears with a report showing that laser printer emissions are as bad for the lungs as a lit cigarette. Toner particles join the cloud of invisible office toxins that researchers have been identifying in recent years, which is causing office workers to slowly develop compromised immune systems, chronic headaches, and respiratory distress.

Now, researchers are using sensors that pick up particulate smaller than one micron, or about one-50th the diameter of a human hair. In fact, exerts found that when someone has a large job going, the air quality sensors go through the roof.

Workers Compensation Lawyer

As you can see there are some serious air quality and toxic hazards for workers in climate controlled office spaces, particularly for pregnant women as many of these agents can cause birth defects. Many companies have begun testing regularly for radon, asbestos, and other toxins that have been proven extremely hazardous over the past few decades, however, there are also extremely apparent ones such as printer dust that can seriously effect a worker’s overall health. These toxic effects can be extremely hard to prove to Washington State L&I and may require legal help in seeking compensation for injuries and illnesses on the job.

Phillips Law Firm has a team of legal professionals dedicated to seeking just compensation for workers injured on the job. Our workers compensation attorneys will look at your case for free and give you options on what you need to do to move forward. Call Phillips Law Firm now for a free consultation.