Sick Building Syndrome- Is your dream house making you sick!!

Posted by Sonal Jain on Fri, Apr 22, 2016  
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The world is not progressing only in terms of globalization, industrialization, or in economic prospects, but also in terms of poor air quality index and high human health discomfort. Since long outdoor air pollution being the major concern, the indoor air quality has left behind from the vision, but now there has been a growing consensus regarding the study on indoor air quality with its adverse human health hazards. We have always considered pollution to be outdoors and somehow convinced ourselves that vicious things like dust, contaminants, bioaerosols and outdoor pollutants are stringently outdoor threats that impede at the front door, but never realized that the place where we literally live, work and prosper is pyrrhic.

The researchers and science community have extracted a new terminology ‘invironment’ which refers the nature of air that circulate throughout the inside space where we work and prosper. People gives range of reactions when they hear the term sick building syndrome (SBS) or more commonly used building related illness (BRI) which consequently decipher their awareness about the invironment, causing the major health threat to occupants. Questions like how can energy efficient buildings make people ill? How high-tech equipped buildings make their occupants sick?

Nowadays due to technological advances buildings are designed in an enclosed manner which results the recirculation of air within them, and surplus with a variety of chemical-irritants, environmental pollutants and bioallergens. The spaces where chemicals, allergens and other particles exceed to their permissible level make the space sick. People spends most of their times indoor at their offices or at homes and reported with range of health discomfort collectively called SBS or BRI. As the name deciphers itself it is used to describe office workers or occupants discomfort and medical symptoms which are correlated with various building discomfort.

Why is sick- building syndrome controversial?

Sick building syndrome is controversial because many people and some clinicians believe there is a disease "syndrome" associated with buildings and their internal environment contrastingly many other clinicians and medical organizations say there is no convincing clinical evidence that such a medical syndrome exists. Building-related illness is used to explain specific symptoms that can be recognized to a known contaminant or irritant within the premises and contrastingly SBS is a collection of unrelated symptoms that initiated for an unknown reason in at least 20 % of the occupants. BRI is generally an allergic reaction or infection, and specific symptom includes cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, and muscle aches. The symptoms may continue even after the occupants left the building, and the cause of symptoms is recognized. Humidifier fever, Legionnaires’ disease, skin rashes, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and other illnesses related to bacteria, fungus (mold), and viruses are often classified as BRI, not SBS. Studies vary in the symptom description and frequency and whether the symptoms reduce on leaving the building.

Risk factors of the syndrome

Despite much studied arena, there are still some lacunas which need to explore the hazardous causes of the syndrome. Research community has described some factors as mentioned below making the illness more chronic.

  • Chemical contaminant
    • Indoor sources: adhesives, upholstery, carpeting, copy machines, cosmetics, cleaning agents, respirable tobacco smoke, combustion byproduct from stove.
    • Biological contaminant: Pollens, bacteria, virus, fungus and molds, pet dander’s, animal fibre.
    • Insects and pet droppings. Contaminants from water pipelines, ceiling tiles.
    • Improper ventilation: Malfunctioning heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Poor design and improper construction of building.
    • Electromagnetic radiation: Televisions, mobile phones, microwaves and computers
    • Psychological factors: Excessive work stress or dissatisfaction, poor interpersonal relationships and poor communication

Symptoms of disease

Sick building syndrome describes an array of symptoms thought to be linked to spending time in a certain building. The symptoms of SBS may include:

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Poor concentration
  • Shortness of breath or chest tightness
  • Eye and throat irritation
  • Irritated, blocked or runny nose
  • Skin irritation (skin rashes, dry itchy skin)

Different individuals in the same building may experience different symptoms. They usually recover or withdraw altogether when you leave the building and often return when you re-enter the building.

How do you investigate the syndrome?

If you start observing the regular complaints of headaches, nausea, dizziness, mental fatigues or irritation of skin or if your manager evaluates your work efficiency then you should investigate systematically.?

How to deal with or risk mitigations?

Thermal discomfort (temperatures that are too high or too low), prolonged exposures to contaminants due to poor source control and/or inadequate ventilation, etc. Poor maintenance and/or the presence of moisture in the HVAC systems are evidently the high risk factor for SBS symptoms.

There are many cases in which SBS symptoms could be mitigated, such as reducing ozone and the products of ozone chemistry indoors. Not to mention, too little consideration is paid to the quality and repairs of HVAC systems, which require not only regular cleaning but also regular tests against the design values.

  • Better building materials are another key element, as many of the early cases of SBS/BRI were related to items such as carpet and paint, which were off-gassing chemicals that created symptoms in occupants.
  • Doctors should suggest an air quality inspection to identify and address the cause of the problem.
  • Political and bureaucratic proceedings will take their course, but being the primary sufferer we have to take steps to protect ourselves and our family.
  • Using electrical appliances and LPG for cooking instead of solid fuels.
  • Avoid indoor smoking.
  • Pollutant source removal or modification is an effective approach to resolve SBS problem when sources are known and control is feasible.
  • Increasing ventilation rates and air distribution often can be a cost- effective means of reducing indoor pollutant levels. HVAC systems should be designed, at a minimum, to meet ventilation standards in local building.


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