Patient organization: Indoor air related health problems heavily psychologized in Finland by public institutions, often with questionable scientific practices. Patients rarely receive proper help and medical care, and many end up marginalized.
As the international conference Indoor Air 2022 is currently organized in Finland, we Finnish Indoor Air Patients’ Association (Homepakolaiset) want to remind that indoor air related health problems face strong and systematic denial in the country, leading to a severely marginalized patient group and alarmingly growing public health problems.
Public institutions, mainly the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), have systematically produced reports, medical guidelines and media coverage that have resulted in a situation, where sick building syndrome and building related illnesses are treated mainly as mental and neuropsychiatric problems.
Prolonged indoor air related symptoms are often considered ’functional’ and claimed to be caused by personal distress and irrational fears towards buildings. Patients seeking medical help often find their problems treated as a central sensitivity issue instead of considering more holistic aetiology and diagnostics.
Results are seen among patients in all age groups and sectors. For instance, elementary school students showing symptoms in brand new schools¹ with indisputable indoor air problems told to use mental techniques “for fear and hypersensitivity control”. Another example are policemen and nurses falling severely ill en masse in damaged and poorly maintained but officially healthy-enough premises, consequently remaining without compensation for occupational diseases and income loss.
This policy and the claims of indoor air symptoms being caused by distress and fears are often supported by “Finland’s own national research” which in many cases does not follow good scientific practice. Cherry-picking results from psychosomatic publications is common, as well as referring to studies that in most cases have little or nothing to do with indoor air but are presented as such.
Tendentious, psychology focused research is not what we should expect in the 2020s, when environmental health research and exposure science have evolved to a holistic and interdisciplinary research area. Modern research takes into consideration a variety of body functions, biological effects and diseases and makes use of omics approaches, statistical tools, and methods for measuring exposure and biomarkers, to name a few.
The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the institutions under its control (FIOH and THL) have not managed to provide justification and scientific evidence to back up this policy, although it is claimed to be science-based². These discriminating policies have been strongly spread and applied in national indoor air programs, medical guidelines and conferences³ without any signs of change. Actually, the same practices, by the same specialists, are currently being applied also for other emerging illnesses like long covid.
As a patient organisation we urge our public institutions to adapt more holistic and modern approaches regarding indoor air related health problems. We also want to thank those Finnish scientists who are tenaciously working for more ambitious and inclusive indoor air research.
1) One of the common IAQ problems in Finland is PVC flooring installed on wet concrete, leading to a mixture of VOC emissions from adhesives and the flooring itself and microbial contamination of materials.
You can read a short description of our building stock and patient organization here (in English).
2) Finnish speaking readers can find more about the Ministry’s answers to our inquiries here.
3) Here you can find an example of how the message is spread to doctors (in Finnish).
Another example of questionable science communication, in media, by public institutions is presented here (in Finnish).