Reading Module IELTS: Heading Questions.

Feel free to read this wonderful article by Stephanie Buck at

Please read the following passage and answer the headings questions given at the end of the reading.

A. Individually, the symptoms barely seemed worth mentioning. A runny nose here, a rash there. It could have been allergies or a lingering cold. Until one person started complaining, then another. Over time, a whole floor in an office building might be comparing notes. Many felt a little dizzy. It had been going on for months.

B. Maybe they photocopied a survey and sent it around. Maybe they organized committees. Maybe they even filed a complaint with management. Figure out what’s making everybody sick, they demanded.

C. “Sick building syndrome” floated uneasily into America’s late-1970s news cycle. The Environmental Protection Agency would later define it as a “situation in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” No one even knew whether it was a real illness. But a of couple things were clear: It was occurring in newer office buildings, among mostly women.

D. The country was used to hearing about hazardous workplace exposure in industrial factories, mills, and mines, but the idea that office workers might be getting sick seemed both implausible and alarming at the same time. What in the world could possibly be making them sick, people wondered? After all, they were insulated inside air-conditioned, carpeted offices with regular cleaning crews.

E. Later, experts would determine these factors actually contributed to the problem. The oil embargo of 1973 called for new buildings to limit outdoor air ventilation to 5 cubic feet per minute (cfm) per person, for the sake of energy conservation. The previous standard was 15 cfm. Building designers complied, and constructed airtight fortresses with very little natural ventilation. Then they glued down a bunch of synthetic carpets, installed some manufactured wood accents, hooked up office machines that contained chemicals and required cooling, and cleaned everything with volatile solutions. The HVAC systems couldn’t work hard enough to filter it all out.

F. In 1984, the World Health Organization estimated that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may have been the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality. Collectively, all this could contribute to symptoms like cough, headache, chills, rash, tight chest, fatigue, nausea.

G. The fact that women made up the majority of SBS complainants made it easy to write off the potential ventilation issues as a simple case of hysteria. Too much gossip. Too much time to ruminate. In reality, it made sense that women were the ones to complain. More middle-class women entered offices in the 1970s and 1980s, following a decade of cultural liberalization and gender activism. However, women were relegated to menial office tasks, clerical labor, and machine work, while male professionals generally worked in larger, more flexible, established office environments that contributed to better physical health and psychological security.

H. But the organization (and division) of the modern office around patriarchal structures is actually what helped identify sick building syndrome in the first place. Despite their cordoned situation, women employed tactics they learned from the women’s liberation movement to identify the problem, organize, and draw attention to the injustice of gendered office work. It was consciousness raising around health issues.

I. “Office workers are not falling off tall buildings, emerging at 5 p.m. covered with soot, or getting their hands caught in dangerous machines,” said Ellen Cassedy, founder of women’s organization 9to5. “But as an understanding of chemical and psychological hazards has increased, we have learned that office workers are exposed to severe dangers, all the more severe because they are often invisible and unrecognized.”

J. And notoriously hard to prove. Though women office workers helped determine there was a problem, diagnosing it was another task entirely. A Yale biophysicist first coined “sick building syndrome” in a Swedish medical publication in 1984. It quickly rippled through Western medical communities. One camp claimed it a legitimate medical condition, the other a gendered psychosocial delusion or “mass psychogenic illness” (aka female hysteria). It wasn’t until the 1990s that the definition was extended to men experiencing Gulf War Syndrome.

K. By then, the sick building scare became even more widespread. The media called the alleged disease a “ticking time bomb,” in light of the recent rise in office jobs. A few cases entered the courts, as nervous contractors replaced potentially toxic building materials with more organic solutions. The ventilation minimum in enclosed buildings was raised to 20 cfm per person in office spaces.

L. The buzz behind SBS ultimately fizzled in the late 1990s to its current status, a curious convergence of physical symptoms among Information Age office workers who were, at the very least, cooped up and stressed out. To say the illness applied only to women is unfair. That they helped identify the phenomenon is certain. Whether today’s workforce is out of danger is debatable.

Give suitable headings to each paragraph:

  1. Reducing building standards to conserve energy.
  2. Defining SBS.
  3. The danger still persists.
  4. Doubting the existence of SBS.
  5. Role of gender in SBS.
  6. Raising consciousness on SBS.
  7. Initial indicators of disease.
  8. Statistics on new buildings and related indicators of SBS.
  9. Office workers are in as much danger as workers in hazardous industries.
  10. Methods to raise initial awareness on SBS.
  11. Steps to control SBS.
  12. First identification of SBS as a disease.

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