SICK!! Building Syndrome

Not ‘sick’, in the colloquial sense; but SICK in the health sense.

If you or others you know who work, live, or frequent a building which causes them minor health effects that seem to be linked to time spent in the space, this can be diagnosed as Sick Building Syndrome [SBS].

The symptoms of SBS should not be confused with illnesses such as a cold or flu which would last even if the person vacated the building for some time. The symptoms of SBS tend to ebb as the occupants leave the building/ room responsible for the health effects. Some of the symptoms to watch out for when in a room/ building for a prolonged period of time are:

  1. Headaches
  2. ENT irritation
  3. Dry cough
  4. Dry/ itchy skin
  5. Dizziness and nausea
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Fatigue
  8. Sensitivity to odors

The direct causes of SBS are not known but there seem to be several variables which contribute towards SBS. The condition of the air in terms of temperature and humidity as well as lighting levels in the space can dictate how people are affected. Air pollutants from outside air, VOCs released from indoor sources, and biological contaminants are enhanced when there is inadequate ventilation in the building.

Timeline of ventilation standards

During the early to mid 1900s, building’s called for 15 cfm per occupant to diffuse the body odor in a space. During the OPEC crisis in the 1970s, many buildings were made more airtight in order to increase energy efficiency and lower the cost of sky-high [for the time] oil prices. It became apparent that these building systems which maintained 5 cfm per occupant altered the health and comfort of the residents. Today’s ASHRAE standards acknowledge that energy costs are high but still provide a minimum of 15 cfm per person, although as many as 60 cfm/ person may be required for spaces such as smoking lounges.

Check out this flick on 60 Minutes, which will tell you the SICKEST BUILDING IN AMERICA!

National Safety Council. Sick Building Syndrome. April 2009.


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