Sick Building Syndrome, what is it?
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Sick building syndrome (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. A 1984 World Health Organization report suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be subject of complaints related to poor indoor air quality.
Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Other causes have been attributed to contaminants produced by outgassing of some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), molds (see mold health issues), improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (byproduct of some office machinery), light industrial chemicals used within, or lack of adequate fresh-air intake/air filtration (see Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value).
Symptoms are often dealt with after the fact by boosting the overall turn-over rate of fresh air exchange with the outside air, but the new green building design goal should be able to avoid most of the SBS problem sources in the first place, minimize the ongoing use of VOC cleaning compounds, and eliminate conditions that encourage allergenic mold growth.
Building occupants complain of symptoms such as sensory irritation of the eyes, nose, throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions; and odor and taste sensations.
Several sick occupants may report individual symptoms which do not appear to be connected. The key to discovery is the increased incidence of illnesses in general with onset or exacerbation within a fairly close time frame - usually within a period of weeks. In most cases, SBS symptoms will be relieved soon after the occupants leave the particular room or zone. However, there can be lingering effects of various neurotoxins, which may not clear up when the occupant leaves the building. In some cases, particularly in sensitive individuals, there can be long-term health effects.
Sick Building Syndrome can be caused by inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources, and/or biological contaminants. Many volatile organic compounds, which are considered chemical contaminants, can cause acute effects on the occupants of a building. "Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants" and can all cause SBS. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently revised its ventilation standard to provide a minimum of 15 cfm of outdoor air per person (20 cfm/person in office spaces). In addition, pollution from outdoors, such as motor vehicle exhaust, can contribute to SBS.