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Sick Building Syndrome
By Jim Brown
Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health conditions related to time spent in a certain building. These unspecific illnesses are usually unexplained and cannot be identified.
The complaints may be specific to a particular room or may be widespread throughout the building. This set of symptoms is usually associated with indoor exposure to chemicals or microorganisms and is characterized by headaches; eye, nose and throat irritations; fatigue; and skin disorders.
Another symptom is the fact that most of the complainants report relief soon after leaving the building or the contaminated room.
In 1984, the World Health Organization (WHO) report into the syndrome suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality.
The Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
The main cause of Sick Building Syndrome is a situation in which a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is conflicting with its original design or approved operating procedures.
Additional reasons that may lead to Sick Building Syndrome are associated with poor indoor air quality usually caused by poor building design, poor ventilation and improper occupant activities.
Inadequate ventilation occurs if heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems do not effectively distribute air to people in the building.
Indoor Chemical Contaminants
Indoor air pollution usually comes from sources inside the building. The following is a list of possible indoor air pollution sources:
- Cleaning materials
- Copy machines and printers
- Wood products
Outdoor Chemical Contaminants
Indoor air quality is often affected by outdoor air that enters a building and can be a source of air pollution. The following is a list of possible outdoor air pollution sources:
- Building exhausts
- Motor vehicle exhausts
- Plumbing vents
These air pollutants usually enter a building through poorly located air intake vents, unsealed windows, and other building openings.
Biological contaminants that may often be found inside a building are bacteria, mold, pollen, and viruses. These contaminants may breed in standing water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers or drain pans.
Inadequate temperature and humidity levels will contribute to the growth of biological contaminants. For example: if humidity levels are not controlled and kept under 45%, mold will start growing.
An additional problem is the fact that some of these contaminants can grow invisibly, making it very hard to detect.
Another type of biological contaminant includes insect or bird droppings. These are usually easier to detect and eliminate with proper maintenance.
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