“Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS) is a term used to describe situations where the occupants of a building experience acute health problems or discomfort, which appear to be linked to the time spent in the building. The exact cause of the illness is often difficult to pinpoint, and symptoms usually improve or disappear once people leave the building.
The specific symptoms can vary greatly but often include headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat, dry cough, itchy skin, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and sensitivity to odors. These symptoms are often generalized and non-specific, making SBS hard to diagnose.
Potential causes of SBS are usually related to the quality of indoor air. Some of the primary factors that can contribute to SBS include:
Inadequate ventilation: Buildings, especially modern ones, are often designed to be airtight for energy efficiency. This can lead to inadequate fresh air circulation, causing buildup of pollutants.
Chemical contaminants from indoor sources: This includes things like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from furnishings, carpeting, building materials, cleaning products, and office equipment such as copiers and printers, which can release chemicals into the air.
Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources: These can include pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents, and building exhausts (like bathrooms and kitchens) that can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings.
Biological contaminants: These can include bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses that can breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, insulation, or carpet.
Poor lighting, noise, and ergonomics can also contribute to the feeling of discomfort and ill health in a building.
Preventing and solving sick building syndrome often involves improving the ventilation, removing or reducing the sources of indoor air pollution, and maintaining the HVAC system regularly. A comprehensive approach to improving the indoor environment, considering lighting, noise, and ergonomics can also be beneficial.