Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sick-Building Syndrome – How Poor Indoor Air Quality Can Affect You and What You Can Do About It

There are many factors that can negatively impact the indoor air quality, or IAQ, of the places that we all work and live. Office buildings, apartment complexes and factories all contain airborne particulates and fumes that can degrade the quality of the air that we breath. While any amount of these particulates and fumes can negatively impact our health and the health of our families, there is a threshold of toxicant that, if present in the air, can show as symptoms that classify as a condition called “Sick Building Syndrome”. The National Safety Council defines Sick Building Syndrome as:

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a situation in which occupants of a building experience acute health effects that seem to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building.
Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems are a result of poor building design or occupant activities.”

In a perfect world, the building practices and the maintenance protocols for current buildings would be such that airborne particulates and fumes, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), volatile aromatic hydrocarbons (VAHs) would not be present in our environment, but such a world does not exist, yet. It is extremely important to be able to identify and recognize Sick Building Syndrome and the associated symptoms.

Sick Building Syndrome could be classified, though it isn't officially recognized, as an upper-respiratory condition, though not exclusively. Some symptoms that you should be able to recognize are:

Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome:
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Eye, Nose and Throat Irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Acute Odor Sensitivity
  • Itchy, Dry Skin
  • Dizziness

An important aspect of Sick Building Syndrome is that, typically, most symptoms dissipate after leaving the the building. However, if the poor air quality is causing SBS, then these symptoms could be experienced for a longer term.

In order to combat Sick Building Syndrome, there are a number of steps that business and individuals can take to help reduce and , hopefully, eliminate the presence of these symptoms.

Methods for Reducing or Eliminating Sick Building Syndrome:
  • The first method is a communication system in which you as an employee or an inhabitant, can express your concerns in a constructive way, to the right people, so that changes can be made to improve the indoor air quality
  • Increased ventilation and air distribution in the home or workplace can reduce the amound pollutants can could be causing SBS.
  • The removal and replacement of building materials that can contribute to indoor pollution:
    • Mold growth from damp, wet areas.
    • Elimination of materials that are known to emit pollutants.
    • Prohibiting smoking.
    • Ensuring that areas in which solvents, adhesives, paints and pesticides are used or store is adequately ventilated and their uses are as minimized as possible.
  • Installing air filters and maintaining them properly.

Being aware of the symptoms that could possibly be the result of Sick Building Syndrome, being educated about possible causes that contribute to polluted indoor air quality and instituting some of these methods that can reduce or eliminate SBS can help us all live and work in a cleaner and more healthy environment.


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