Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to describe a condition in which otherwise healthy individuals with no existing health issues experience acute health conditions when they spend time in a specific building. The complaints can be localized in one specific room or it can be widespread throughout the building. The reason for the symptoms can be attributed to poor indoor air quality. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, poor indoor air quality can be found in about 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings.

Your workplace, school or your home could possibly be a sick building!

According to NIOSH( National Institute for occupational safety and Health) ,

If 20% of the work force has symptoms -- including watery eyes; hoarseness; headaches; dry, itchy skin; dizziness; nausea; heart palpitations; miscarriages; shortness of breath; nosebleeds; chronic fatigue; mental fogginess; tremors; swelling of legs or ankles and cancer -- the building may be labeled a "sick building."

Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome                 

  • Headaches      
  • Watery eyes    
  • Hoarseness    
  • Dry, itchy skin    
  • Dizziness   
  • Miscarriages
  • Palpitations
  • Nosebleeds
  • Tremors
  • Mental Fogginess
  • Cancer

The telling factor is when symptoms suddenly disappear when the person leaves the room or the building.

Causes of sick building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome can be caused by the following:

  • Lack of Ventilation: Due to the energy crisis in the 1970’s, the builders and regulatory authorities wanted buildings to have low ventilation to save costs on fuels for heating and air conditioning. As a result, many buildings became airtight and lacked ventilation.
  • Indoor air pollutants -VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and formaldehyde – The main sources of VOC’s and formaldehyde are adhesive, upholstery, carpeting, copy machines, manufactured wood products, cleaning agents.
  • Carbon monoxide/Nitrogen Di oxide/Respirable products- These are the combustion by-products that come from stove, fireplaces, gas stoves, unvented space heater.
  • Outdoor Air pollutants- Chemical contaminants from outdoor can travel into the buildings through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings. The main sources of pollutants come from motor vehicle exhausts; plumbing vents, and building exhausts (e.g., bathrooms and kitchens).
  • Biological contaminants- Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses: The main sources of biological contaminants include stagnant water in humidifiers, drainpipes, ducts, on ceiling tiles, insulation, carpets, and upholstery.

Studies on Sick building syndrome in Schools

  • A study conducted in Japan, tested the effects of dampness on 4408 elementary school children in 8 different elementary schools. Along with the schools, the children’s homes were also investigated for dampness. The studies concluded that dampness in schools and homes had adverse health effects on the children leading to symptoms such as chronic cough, nasal symptoms, dry skin, and sleep issues. It was also found that children with better diets suffered less or had reduced SBS symptoms.
  • Another study conducted on the effects of SBS in schools used a literature review on journals published in the last 10 years with the aim of producing references that are more focused on the development of the latest problems and solutions.. The study concluded that there was a connection between Sick buildings and student learning outcomes.
  • In a recent study which was conducted in Quebec by a group of doctors to understand the air quality issues and how it was contributing to Covid-19 infections ,It was found that the CO2 levels were way beyond the acceptable level in the classrooms owing to lack of ventilation.

Solutions to Sick building Syndrome

While it may be difficult to pin down the specific symptoms solely to SBS or BRI, the EPA (US Environmental Protection agency) recommends an indoor air quality investigation by an expert when the occupants complain.

Some of the measures that should be taken to prevent and control Sick building syndrome are:

  • Source Control/modification: Routine maintenance of the HVAC filters, replacing water-stained ceiling tiles and carpets, using stone, ceramic or hardwood flooring, proper water proofing.
  • The newly built buildings should be given time for the building materials to off gas before occupancy.
  • Improving ventilation: HVAC ventilation should be designed to meet the ventilation standards. Local exhaust ventilation is particularly recommended to remove pollutants that accumulate in specific areas such as rest rooms, copy rooms, and printing facilities. Changing the complete ventilation is a long term and costly affair.
  • Building awareness and understanding is an important part of Air quality management program.
  • Creating smoke free zone in workplaces and buildings and restricting smoking to a zone which is well ventilated.
  • Using a high-performance Air purifier: filtering the air in the sick building has proven to be effective. A good Air purifier with HEPA and carbon filters helps in removing 99.9 % of air pollutants and remove the chemicals and VOCs from the air. Recommended units: Airpura UV600, Airpura P600 and Airpura V600