4 Top Causes of Sick Building Syndromes
Sick Building Syndrome is a medical condition that affects office workers. The symptoms displayed can include headaches and irritation of the respiratory system, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, or unwell feelings for no apparent reason. These symptoms appear to be linked to time spent in a building, as they become more acute as more time is spent in the building, and improve or even disappear when people are away from the building.
Sick building syndrome is attributed to a number of factors that relate to environmental contaminants or flaws in ventilation systems. We examine a few causes:
1. Naturally Occurring Biological Poisons
The environment is loaded with naturally occurring viruses to which our bodies have not yet been exposed. Contaminants contain living organisms that can live and proliferate in molds or in airborne materials such as pollen or dust. They may also breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in humidifiers, air ducts, or in drainage systems, drain pans, and the insulation. Unfortunately, although they may be very important components of the ecosystem, droppings from insects and birds may also contain biological contaminants.
2. Poor Ventilation
Image via Flickr via Michael Casey
Indoor air can contain a high amount of these biological contaminants that increase the risk of sick building syndrome. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes that more than 52 percent of the cases of poor indoor quality is because of poor ventilation.
3. Chemical Contamination
Contaminants can also be found inside the building with commonly used chemical compounds such as paint, solvents, detergents, adhesives, cleaning agents, and even in upholstered furniture. These chemicals can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that diffuse through the indoor air.
4. External Contaminants
Common chemical contaminants that come from outside of the building can also be the cause of sick building syndrome. They include effluents from nearby industrial plants and exhaust from motor vehicles. Pollutants will enter through plumbing ventilation, building exhaust systems, improperly located windows, or air intake vents.
Is Your Building at Risk for Sick Building Syndrome?
To determine if your building is at risk, the medical conditions of any affected persons should be examined. A thorough inspection of the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems must also be undertaken to identify any sources of contamination. It is important to identify and prevent problems with serious issues that require remediation.
Preventing Sick Building Syndrome
The best method to prevent sick building syndrome is to improve the quality of the indoor air quality of the facility. A few suggestions are to implement the use of HEPA filters or air purifying machines, proper maintenance of the ventilation and air filtration systems, and replacing old systems with newer energy-efficient HVAC systems.
There are also a few nondestructive and easily implemented methods that can be used to help relieve some of the symptoms of sick building syndrome. Indoor plants can be used to absorb some of the pollutants and CO2 which they use as fuel. In humans, the concentration of Vitamin D in the body increases with exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D improves overall health and well-being.
Make sure you’re aware of these potential signs and causes of Sick Building Syndrome so you can protect yourself against its effects. Make sure your HVAC system is up to par, and that you provide a clean environment for the people who live or work in your building.