If worker right-to-know laws are intended to require employers to inform their employees of the specific hazards based on specific chemicals to which their employees are exposed in the workplace, soil gas vapor regulation is intended to fill a significant gap, namely the wide range of pollutants that employers typically cannot know about and protect employees from. Soil gas vapor regulation is designed to set forth remedial steps that are required to be taken by property owners (who may or may not be the office building employers) in the face of uncontrollable and sometimes unknown sources of contamination in groundwater and soil beneath the building.
Employee complaints can be due to two types of building problems: Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), and building-related illnesses. SBS is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness can be identified. SBS is associated with complaints of discomfort including headache, nausea and dizziness; eye, nose, throat, and respiratory irritation; coughing; difficulty concentrating; sensitivity to odors; muscle pain; and fatigue. The specific causes of the symptoms are often not known but sometimes are attributed to the effects of a combination of substances or individual susceptibility to low concentrations of contaminants. Symptoms of SBS are associated with periods of occupancy and often disappear after the worker leaves the worksite.
These activities include cooking odors from company cafeterias, body odors and cosmetic odors. Work activities from non-HVAC system equipment contribute to the problem. There are emissions from office equipment (volatile organic compounds or "VOCs" and ozone), office supplies (solvents, toners, ammonia, formaldehyde from carbonless copy paper), shops, labs, cleaning processes, elevator motors and other mechanical systems. Emissions from office equipment and related activities are regulated in private offices under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and in public offices in New York under the state's Public Employees' Safety and Health Act (PESH) and right-to-know laws.