Back in the 1980s, I was living the American dream: I was healthy, happy, married, and had a new baby girl on the way. I was loving it all. But once my law office (I was an organized-crime prosecutor at the time) moved into a new building in Miami, something strange started happening. I developed sore throats, constant dizziness, and burning eyes and lungs. I chalked it up to stress, thinking it would pass. But it only got worse.
I eventually became hypersensitive to almost everything around me: pollens, molds, foods, perfumes, hair spray, detergents, newsprint, auto exhaust, and many everyday chemicals. It got so bad that I would experience seizures upon certain exposures. That year, I consulted with countless doctors who tested me for every imaginable illness. We eventually concluded that my symptoms were a result of sick building syndrome (SBS), caused by the building I was working in.
I was breathing dangerous chemicals outgassing from the new carpeting, glues, paints, plastics, and other construction materials that were coalescing without any fresh air to dilute them. My exposure to these toxic chemicals damaged my immune system—and I wasn’t alone. Others in the building experienced symptoms that ranged in severity. Everyone’s resistance to environmental toxins is unique, like a bio-chemical fingerprint, and different people can have different adverse responses to the same chemicals. You may be less resistant to mold than me, but I may be less resistant to formaldehyde than you. It all boils down to your unique set of genes and how they interact with your environmental exposure. However, up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide cause health problems related to poor indoor air quality.