The health ministry will seek a limit on the amount of formaldehyde allowable in materials used in the construction of large public facilities in order to reduce instances of sick-building syndrome, ministry officials said.

The ministry is also expected to try to empower local governments to order improvements of such buildings, including schools, hotels and department stores, with unacceptably high levels of formaldehyde, the officials said Monday.

Sick-building syndrome, where occupants of a building experience acute health effects that seem to be linked to time spent in a building but which cannot be identified as a specific illness, is thought to be partially caused by emissions of formaldehyde from commonly used building materials.

Sources of formaldehyde in construction materials include foam insulation, which was widely used in the 1970s, as well as resins in finishes, plywood, paneling, fiberboard, and in carpet backings and adhesives.

Under the ministry’s planned legislation, local governments would also be able to order the closure of such buildings if an operator fails to abide by improvement orders, according to the officials with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Building operators would be required to measure formaldehyde concentration levels during the preservice inspection and to take steps to remedy the situation if the amount exceeds the acceptable government level of 0.08 parts per million.

There were about 34,000 buildings in Japan as of the end of fiscal 2000 that would be subject to the new legislation, according to ministry figures.

In a related move, the ministry has also decided to revise government and ministry ordinances relating to the hygienic management of buildings to establish a new regulation for managing water supply facilities in buildings.

The ordinances, which have not been revised for 32 years, would be amended to address the health hazard posed by Legionella bacteria, which breeds in water pipes and can cause pneumonia.

Legionella, a naturally occurring bacterium, was discovered during an outbreak of pneumonia at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976.

People can become infected by inhaling steam containing the bacteria.

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