Sick Building Syndrome

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There are situations when building occupants experience acute problems of health and comfort. More the time spent in such buildings, more the symptoms. These symptoms, of what is known as Sick Building Syndrome, disappear once people move from that home or office atmosphere. Permanent complications of Sick Building Syndrome are not known.

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[edit] Why should I be aware of this?

Personality changes such as rage, weeping, paranoia, depression can be caused by the building where you stay or work.

Sick Building Syndrome is not similar to certain building-related illness such as legionnaire's disease. Nor should it be confused with the effects of exposure to hazardous or toxic substances, excessive heat, cold or noise.

[edit] Sick building syndrome and health

On many occasions you may feel various kinds of physical discomfort but can’t attribute any reason to them. You may lack concentration and feel fatigued but can’t figure out why.

Though such problems may appear to have links to the time spent in the building, no specific cause can be identified. The problem can be localized in a room or spread across the house.

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Fatigue, headache,
  • Eye, nose or throat irritation,
  • Skin irritation,
  • Dry cough,
  • Irritability and difficulty concentrating,
  • Nausea and dizziness,
  • Hypersensitivity to odors

Work-related symptoms

In offices and other work environments symptoms like irritation of the skin, mucous membranes (mouth, nose, throat), headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating are increasingly associated with younger age, female sex, cigarette smoking, type of work, level of office crowding, presence of carpets, and type/volume of ventilation.

[edit] All about sick building syndrome

In 1984, the World Health Organization reported that the above cluster of symptoms was occurring “with increased frequency in buildings with indoor climate problems.” This collection of symptoms later came to be known as “Sick Building Syndrome.”

Recurrence of such symptoms was found in several people associated with a particular building. The symptoms were found to decrease or disappear when they were not in the building.

On researching 450 “problem buildings,” in the late 1980s, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in the United States found that 52 percent of them had inadequate ventilation, 17 percent had inside contamination, 11 percent had contamination entering from outside, 5 percent had contamination with bacteria or moulds, 3 percent had contaminants in the building materials, and 12 percent had unknown problems.

European surveys of workers in mostly “non-problem buildings” in the late 1980s and early ‘90s revealed that some people, like those with history of allergy and psychological stress, were more at risk of developing building-related symptoms than others.

[edit] Complex causes

Buildings are being made airtight to make homes energy efficient and comfortable. Also, the materials used, such as furniture, clothing, fabrics, cleaners, detergents, and preservatives, are becoming more and more complex.

At room temperature, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from homes. Studies have shown that indoor levels of some VOCs can be up to ten times greater than outdoors. VOC sources in homes and offices are scents and hair sprays, household products such as finishes, rug and oven cleaners, paints, thinners, dry cleaning fluids, some copiers and printers, some glues and adhesives, markers, and photo solutions.

Following house renovation, chemicals present in renovation materials, cleaning solutions, and office machinery may elevate the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and cause many kinds of health problems. And in old buildings, molds and bacteria that grow as a result of water leakage can also cause sick building syndrome.

[edit] Some possible factors

Though the specific cause of Sick Building Syndrome is unknown, some of the factors which can cause the problem are:

  • Indoor pollution caused by office cleaning chemicals, adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, photocopiers, faxes, printers and other equipment
  • Spread of bacteria, viruses, pollen from air-conditioning systems, drains and humidifiers
  • When there are variations in the humidity levels of buildings
  • When because of air conditioning and heating, windows cannot be opened, resulting in poor ventilation
  • When outside chemicals, vehicle exhausts, fumes from heating and plumbing enter the building through vents or windows;
  • Too high or too low temperatures

[edit] Ozone reacts with indoor organic molecules

According to a report by a team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) Sick Building Syndrome symptoms increase with rising outdoor concentrations of the pollutant ozone.

In lab studies it has been noticed that ozone reacts with indoor organic molecules to produce short-lived chemicals. These chemicals are irritating, and likely to be toxic or carcinogenic to humans chronically exposed to them.

The research has also establish a correlation between sick building syndrome and certain air filters used in buildings, such as polyester/synthetic fibers, fiberglass, natural filters made of cotton or cellulose, or natural-synthetic blends. These filters, in combination with higher outdoor ozone levels, have been found to cause cough, sore eyes, fatigue, and headache.

[edit] How to figure out

As there are no clear insights, there is no option but to know the causes and act upon them. An environmental expert may help as he can see things which we can’t. Remember there could be more than one factor. So consider other possibilities too even if you have identified a couple of causes.

If your building has been flooded or sustained [water] damage, your environment may become toxic to your health.

[edit] What can I do?

It is possible to take certain precautions, such as:

  • Check the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and correct any faults
  • Control temperature fluctuations and ensure they are not too high or too low
  • Check ventilation system so that car exhaust fumes, fumes from heating and plumbing systems, toilets and kitchens are not circulated through the building
  • Identify pollutants in the building and take steps to remove them
  • Vent air directly to the outside, especially from smoking rooms, print rooms, copy rooms and other places that contain many chemicals or contaminants
  • Keep dust levels low in carpets and furnishings
  • Wipe down your phone, keyboard, mouse, and desktop every morning

Ultraviolet Treatment

According to research reports, installation of ultraviolet lights can help get rid of Sick Building Syndrome. The levels of airborne bacterial and fungal organisms were found to have vanished three weeks after installation of the lights.

[edit] CopperBytes

  • A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality. [1]
  • In the early and mid 1900's, building ventilation standards called for approximately 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outside air for each building occupant.
  • Those living in homes or buildings that suffer from sustained flooding, or water damage from broken pipes, roof leaks, sewage backups, condensation can suffer from shortness of breath, headaches and fatigue.[2]
  • Employees in high-rises, particularly those over parking garages or loading docks, may breathe in carbon monoxide carried into the building through the fresh-air-intake vents.
  • If smokers are chatting outside next to an air intake vent, workers inside the building may even inhale secondhand smoke through the ventilation system. *Printers and fax machines emit ozone, which may combine with other organic chemicals in the workplace. [3]

[edit] References

  • Link Between Outdoor Ozone and Building-Related Health Symptoms
  • Sick Building Syndrome
  • Sick Building Syndrome - History
  • A 'cure' for sick building syndrome

[edit] Source

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. Sick Building Syndrome