According to the National Safety Council, Sick building syndrome (SBS) is defined as a situation in which occupants of a building experience acute health effects that seem to be linked to time spent inside a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints are generally localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the entire building.
Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems are a result of poor building design, poor ventilations design, or occupant activities.
What are symptoms of SBS?
The most common complaints of SBS are associate with discomfort. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, eye, nose, and throat irritation, dry cough, itchy or dry skin, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sensitivity to odors. With SBS, there is no defined disease or specific biological or chemical contaminant that can be identified as the cause of the symptoms. Most of the complaintants experience relief as soon as they leave the building.
SBS is a major cause of worker productivity and absenteeism in the US.
What causes SBS?
Although specific causes remain unknown, the following are commonly associated as being the cause for SBS.
Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources : outdoor air that enters a building is full of pollutants from vehicle exhaust, plumbing vents, and building exhausts ( bathroom and kitchens) can enter a building through poorly located intake air vents, windows, and other openings. Combustion byproducts can also enter buildings from nearby garages.
Chemical contaminants fron indoor sources: Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, copy machines, manufactured wood products, cleaning agents, pesticides all emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde. Research shows that VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions in some individuals. Environmental tobacco smoke and combustion products from stoves, fireplaces, and unvented space heaters can all put chemical contaminants into the air.
Biological contaminants: Biological contaminants include pollen, bacteria, viruses and mold spores. These can breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in humidifiers, drain pans, and duct work, anywhere water collects. This could even include ceiling tiles, insulation and carpets. Biological contaminants can cause fevers, chills, cough, chest tightness, muscle aches, and allergic reactions.
Inadequate Ventilation: In the 1970s the oil embargo led building designers to make buildings more airtight, with less outdoor air ventilation, in order to improve energy efficiency. These reduced ventilation and air changes have been found to be, in many cases, inadequate to maintain the health and comfort of a building.
What are the solutions to Sick Building Syndrome?
The best solution is a combination of the following:
- Increasing ventilation rates
- Removal of the pollutant source
- Control of the contaminants thru air cleaning
- Education and communication about indoor air quality management