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Which Illnesses Can Be Caused by Contaminated Buildings?


In 2012, a lawsuit was filed when an Irish tourist became ill after contracting deadly bacteria when staying at a hotel in Chicago. 66-year-old Joseph Thomas Keane was simply having dinner downtown when he inhaled water vapor believed to be contaminated with legionella bacteria. The bacteria was found and removed from the fountain in the hotel’s main lobby after it was believed to have infected multiple visitors.

We go into multiple buildings a week. Sometimes our jobs lead us from our own buildings and into clients’ buildings. Many people live in apartments inside of bigger buildings, and many times we leave these buildings to go shopping in even more buildings. Rarely does one assume one of the many buildings we are entering is contaminated by some bacteria.

Unfortunately, though it is not common, people can become ill, even fatally so, by contracting a disease simply by entering a contaminated building. There are multiple building-specific illnesses that can threaten anyone’s health without much warning:

Legionnaires’ Disease


This is the infection seen in the case above and is most likely spread via contaminated water droplets. This could occur through air conditioning systems, showerheads, or water fountains like in the story above. The symptoms of this often resemble that of pneumonia: aches, chills, fever, and difficulty breathing. It is typically treated with antibiotics.

Occupational Asthma


This illness is typically seen more in situations where someone is exposed to a substance for an extended period. It occurs when someone has a reaction to an allergen that causes airways to narrow, making breathing difficult. The symptoms of this would be shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing. The owners of the building should attempt to prevent this with vapor and dust controls. A person ill with occupational asthma would be treated the same way one with any other form of asthma would be treated: with an inhaler or drugs to reduce inflammation.

Inhalation Fever


This is a fever caused by exposure to certain dust or mists. It will often cause flu-like symptoms. Sometimes, the symptoms will go away on their own; however, if they persist, testing may be required to ensure another infection has not occurred. Inhalation fever can be prevented if the building owner provides proper maintenance of ventilation systems.

Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis


This is a type of inflammation that occurs in reaction to organic dust or chemicals. The immune system will attack something in the organic dust or chemical that is inhaled, causing the person to develop fever, cough, and shortness of breath within four to eight hours of the exposure. If people work in an environment where they are likely to be exposed to these substances, they should be required to use proper protective equipment such as face masks.



Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals that was often used in the construction of old buildings. Although factory workers, miners, construction workers, and similarly employed workers are more at risk for mesothelioma due to their occupation, you can still be exposed to asbestos simply by working in an older office building that used asbestos for insulation. It’s particularly easy to become exposed to asbestos if a renovation is occurring in an asbestos-ridding building, whether an office, apartment complex, or historical home.

Typically an aggressive cancer, mesothelioma affects the linings of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Symptoms of mesothelioma include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, trouble swallowing, unexplained weight loss, pain in the side of the chest or lower back, and swelling of the face and arms.

Help from an Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer

We should never be afraid to enter a place of business. However, the risks of illness are high if the building is not kept properly.  If you became ill because a building did not take the proper measures to ventilate the building, you could be entitled to compensation. Call Hensley Legal Group today for a free consultation or contact us online.