What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Posted on February 24, 2014 in Blog

Sick building syndrome and building related illness are two similar conditions caused by poor indoor air quality

skd171064sdcConsidering that the average person inhales about 2,300 gallons of air each day, and most adults spend 90 percent of each day indoors, it’s clear that we need to pay attention to our indoor environment. Poor indoor air quality can cause significant health issues, including “sick building syndrome.”

Sick Building Syndrome vs Building Related Illness

According to the EPA, sick building syndrome is a condition in which people experience acute health and comfort issues whenever they spend time in a certain building, but no clear cause can be identified. Possible symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation
  • Coughing
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to odors

“Building related illness” is a similar condition that may present similar symptoms. The difference is that whereas sick building syndrome has no clear cause, a building related illness can be directly linked to a specific, measurable contaminant such as lead, asbestos, or mold.

How Common is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick building syndrome is not limited to any particular country or region, but it does appear to be linked primarily to new building materials and furnishings. In 1984, a report by the World Health Organization Committee suggested that occupants lodged excessive complaints about poor indoor air quality in roughly 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings. This finding can be explained by the fact that VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are frequently released by the new paint, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, and adhesives typically found in new buildings. VOCs can cause a variety of symptoms, and because some VOCs are difficult to measure or detect, they are believed to be a big contributor to sick building syndrome.

What Can Be Done to Fight Sick Building Syndrome?

The EPA recommends following an indoor air quality investigation procedure to help identify possible causes of sick building syndrome symptoms. Things to look out for include chemical contaminants such as VOCs, tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, and building exhausts, plus biological contaminants such as bacteria, mold, pollen, and viruses. Any of these contaminants could come from an indoor or outdoor source. Improving the overall ventilation in the building is generally the best way to limit the accumulation of contaminants and hopefully eliminate symptoms of sick building syndrome.

If you need help assessing your indoor air quality, call H2 Environmental. We can provide an accurate assessment and help you create a plan for improving conditions on your property.