What A Building Biologists Is and What They Can Do
You may have heard of someone using a Building Biologist to check out their home for radiation, mold and sick building syndrome, but you really are not exactly sure what it is they do and who they are.
To help you get a better understanding of Building Biology and what a Building Biologist does, I interviewed Lucinda Curran, the President of the Australian Society of Building Biologists, and Chinese Medical Practitioner at Eco Health Solutions.
I personally have hired a Building Biologist to come out and measure the EMF from the Smart Meter in our home and I am very glad I did. It wasn’t just the smart meter that was the problem. It was also our transformer base study lamps, that we were using as bedside lamps and high EMF hot spot was found in our bedroom from an unearthed water pipe running under the floor. Thanks to the Building Biologist we were able to correct these hazards.
So what is a Building Biologist?
In a nutshell, a Building Biologist is a person who has been trained to assess the potential health hazards of a building or built environment. We adopt the Precautionary Principle, that is, if something hasn’t been proven to be safe, then we err on the side of caution and aim to minimise exposure or risks.
Many potential hazards affect people in different ways. Often, there may only be one member of the household who is aware of being affected by their environment, whilst the other members have no symptoms at all.
We work in two main ways:
1. Identifying and assessing the hazards and making recommendations.
2. Establishing the potential causes of the often multiple symptoms that are being experienced.
When our Building Biologists get called out in the first instance, I see this as a great opportunity to alert the occupants to the potential hazards, which can prevent people from becoming sick. The need is often heightened when a family has young children.
Often, in the second case, we get called to try to determine what is going on. Why is someone so sick? Why can’t they get better? In many cases, the person suffering has been trying to decipher their health problems for a long time, having been to doctors and specialists, and often having undergone an array of testing, all of which has been inconclusive. This can lead to people feeling like they are going mad, when in reality they may be reacting to environmental triggers.
I am very passionate about what I term “environmental sensitivities” – these are a range of health issues that can be caused or triggered by environmental components.
I would like people to realise that the sooner they get help in addressing the environmental causes, often the less arduous their recovery.
What issues can a Building Biologist address?
Building Biologists are able to assess and provide recommendations for:
• Electromagnetic fields (EMF) – Please see the second part of my interview with Lucinda on Measuring EMF Levels Correctly and do EMF Shielding Stickers Work?
• Indoor air quality
• Dust, allergens and other indoor air pollutants (including lead)
• Drinking and bathing water
• Moisture and mould
• Building materials
• Building design
• Geomancy (which looks at the more subtle energies of the earth)
These are all very large areas in themselves and all can have quite significant impacts upon health.
How does one train to become a Building Biologist?
In Australia, there is one registered training organisation, the Australian College of Environmental Studies. As an association we recommend this college as they are government accredited.
Who founded Building Biology?
Germany’s Professor Anton Schneider established the first training institution for building biologists, the Institute for Building Biology and Ecology in the late 1960s. Building Biology centres around the 25 Principles of Building Biology, which encapsulate the concepts of sustainable building that are also salubrious.
Is there any science behind Building Biology?
There are many scientists and health professionals who work in different areas that overlap with Building Biology. A handful of these include:
• Professor Olle Johannson (Sweden) and Professor Magda Havas (Canada) – who both focus on the effects of EMF on health
• Professor Martin Pall (US) – who examines the effects of chemicals on our bodies
• Dr Ritchie Shoemaker (US) – who works in the area of mould and its effects on our health
As well, there is a growing mass of research papers demonstrating the detrimental effects on the health of humans, insects, animals and the environment in relation to endocrine disrupting chemicals and radiofrequencies (wireless technology).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published on endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals (EDCs), stating that “Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion” (WHO, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012: Summary for Decision-Makers, p2).
As well, IARC (a subgroup of WHO) has classified both extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic fields (household wiring and appliances) and radiofrequencies (wireless technology) as category 2B – “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Lead, DDT and chloroform are also in category 2B.
Building Biologists are widely recognised over in Europe. Why is Australia slow to recognise them?
Building Biology began in Germany, and thus has been more a part of European life and thinking for nearly 50 years.
It is certainly a growing industry here in Australia.
Perhaps some of this delay is related to changing terminology – more people have heard of “sick building syndrome” than they have “a Building Biology issue.”
Another aspect is marketing. As a society, we have been taught to “soldier on” – take a pain killer and get on with your day, as opposed to correlating our symptoms to our environmental exposures. Instead, we need to address the cause, not the symptoms. An important role of a Building Biologist is to create this understanding through educating clients and the general public about the ways that our environments and technologies can impact upon our health.
The last few years has seen a rapid rise in awareness of our field thanks to our growing numbers and increased activities. Fortunately, many doctors and complementary health practitioners are understanding the importance of our role, and that we can assist them in providing improved outcomes for their patients.
What sort of tools and diagnostic equipment and testing methods does a Building Biologist use?
We use a range of equipment, and the toolbag is large! Our specialised equipment allows us to measure many things, including:
• Oxygen and carbon dioxide levels
• Combustible gases (eg carbon monoxide)
• ELF magnetic fields
• Body voltage
• ELF electric fields
• Moisture levels
We also work in with laboratories to test air, dust, lead and mould samples, amongst other things. As well, we recommend specialised remediation work, where appropriate.
What treatments will a Building Biologist use to rectify issues such as EMF, mould, lead etc?
As Building Biologists, we work through the hierarchy of control for all potential hazards. If one step can’t be achieved, we explore the next option.
• Eliminate the cause or the hazard itself, eg get rid of the microwave
• Substitute the hazard with something safer, eg swap the cordless phone with an old-fashioned wired one
• Engineering controls, such as installing an extractor fan whose flue is vented externally to reduce the moisture in the bathroom
• Administer is about changing the way people work or live, so educating people on safer practices, eg taking out your rubbish daily and keeping your home clean can eliminate your need for “air fresheners,” which only add to the indoor air pollution anyway
• Personal protective equipment is our last resort. This may be people wearing masks to reduce their inhalation of airborne particulates, or it could be installing shielding against EMF
What to be wary of when hiring a Building Biologist?
Our professional association, the Australasian Society of Building Biologists (ASBB) not only checks the qualifications of members, but requires all practising members to maintain their professional development, as well as have all the relevant insurances. I often let people know that where they see the ASBB logo, they can have peace of mind. This is a good place to start.
It is advisable to have a full audit – not just an audit in one area, such as EMF. The reason for this is that often these areas overlap in their potential health effects, and as such it is hard for you as the client to identify what is the cause of the problems you are experiencing.
Several of our members also do EMF shielding, and work in with other Building Biologists to achieve good results for their clients.
Be mindful that there are plenty of people who do weekend courses in EMF and profess to be Building Biologists, so this is a good time to check where they have trained, if they are a member of the ASBB, and if you are in doubt, please contact us.
There are also many people who are well meaning but do not understand the intricacies of EMF. As a result, their advice may actually hinder, instead of help.
There is an old adage that states, “The less you know, the more you think you know. The more you know, the more you realise how little you know.” Our members have a level of professionalism that would mean that we are likely to recognise our limitations and refer you onto the most suitable professional.
If you are in any doubt at all, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
To find a qualified Building Biologist, please visit http://www.asbb.org.au
Written by Lucinda Curran, Building Biologist and Chinese medicine practitioner
President of the ASBB
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You may also find my articles on reducing EMF exposure helpful.