What is this Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) term is used to describe symptoms experienced by a good number of those living or working in a particular building (or part thereof). This symptom seems to be linked directly to the time spent in the building:
- Acute health issues for otherwise healthy building occupants not related to specific illness.
- Discomfort of occupants linked with the time spent inside the building.
- No other cause of illness could be identified.
- Most symptoms relieved soon after leaving the building & recur upon re-entry.
- Eye, nose or throat irritations;
- Fatigue & difficulty in concentration;
- Dry cough;
- Dizziness and nausea;
But there are no known exact causes of these symptoms. They tend to increase, the more time, people spend inside and appear to go away once they exit the building.
Causes of SBS
1. Poor Ventilation
2. Outdoor Pollution
Pollutants from outdoor sources can all contribute to SBS (e.g., adhesives, carpeting, pesticides, VOCs, vehicle exhausts and more). Contaminants from outside like pollutants from motor vehicle exhaust, plumbing vents and building exhausts (bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows and other openings.
3. Biological contaminants
4. Chemical contaminants
Chemical Contaminants which contribute to SBS include sources of indoor air pollution which are existing inside the building. For example, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), other toxic compounds, and Respirable particulate matter (PM).
5. Inadequate humidity levels
High levels of moisture in the air form an invisible breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and fungus that cause asthma, allergies and several other respiratory conditions. On the other hand, low humidity levels cause dry skin, itchy eyes and throat, bloody nose and sinuses. Long exposure creates more alarming problems, making you completely vulnerable to flu, viruses and other infections.
6. Fluctuations in temperature
Fluctuations in temperature are a common cause of workplace stress. Individuals vary by so many factors like body fat, muscle mass, gender, age, hormones, etc. that it is impossible to have a steady temperature that everyone is comfortable with. The result is a building full of stressed out and unproductive personnel or students.
7. Poor lighting
8. Malfunctioning of Heating and Cooling systems
Malfunctioning heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVAC systems) also increase the indoor air pollution. An ideal HVAC system vents out stale air and vents in fresh air, all without causing an area to lose heat or cooling. A reason why you are jetlagged and often catch flu and viruses after long flights, is that the air constantly circulates in the aircraft, meaning you breathe in the same air and high amounts of CO2 everyone has been breathing out.
Solutions to SBS
Remove Source of pollutants
We need to understand the sources of pollution and work to remove or reduce them.
Education and Communication
Education about air quality and our indoor spaces also plays a major role. We, at Fresh Air try to educate people about the indoor air quality problems and their solutions.
Building Investigation Procedures
Whatever the causes of a particular case of Sick Building Syndrome, the phenomenon is real and comes with a huge knock-on economic cost. Whether it’s a conference room, office or a cafe, people want to spend long hours in a comfortable indoor atmosphere. In an office, good indoor air quality means higher productivity, more quality output and the company meets targets faster. In schools, students in classrooms with good indoor climate perform better than in bad indoor climates. In restaurants, people wanting to spend longer times naturally means more sales and more popularity of restaurant.
Reference links used:
1. – A breath of Fresh Air, La Ronna DeBraak
2. – House Plants for a Healthy Home, Jon Van Zile
3. – The Healing Power of Plants, Fran Bailey