What is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)? Ava Montini July 31, 2023

What is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)?

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) refers to a condition in which building occupants experience various health issues due to exposure to indoor pollutants. This phenomenon occurs across different settings, including offices, schools, hospitals, and residential buildings. It is crucial to recognize and address SBS, as it can significantly impact the overall well-being and productivity of those affected.

Common Causes of Sick Building Syndrome 

Several factors contribute to the development of Sick Building Syndrome. Understanding these causes is critical to tackling the issue effectively:

Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Indoor air quality plays a significant role in the development of Sick Building Syndrome. The presence of indoor pollutants can result from a variety of sources, including:

  1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are chemicals emitted as gases from various products and materials, such as paints, adhesives, cleaning agents, and office equipment. Prolonged exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause eye irritation, respiratory problems, and other health issues.
  2. Allergens: Dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and other allergens can accumulate indoors, triggering allergic reactions and respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals.
  3. Chemicals: Harsh cleaning products, pesticides, and certain building materials release chemical compounds that can be harmful when inhaled.
Inadequate Ventilation and Air Circulation

Proper ventilation is crucial for maintaining good indoor air quality. Insufficient fresh air exchange allows pollutants to build up and circulate within the building. Factors contributing to poor ventilation include:

  1. Inadequate airflow: Inefficient ventilation systems, blocked air vents, or poorly designed airflow patterns can lead to stagnant air and an increased concentration of contaminants.
  2. Sealed windows: In modern buildings, windows are often sealed shut, limiting the inflow of fresh air and reducing natural ventilation.
High Humidity Levels or Water Damage

Excessive moisture in the building can create an environment conducive to the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria, which can lead to health issues. Causes of high humidity and water damage include:

  1. Poorly maintained HVAC systems: Malfunctioning or poorly maintained air conditioning units or dehumidifiers can contribute to high humidity levels.
  2. Water leaks: Roof leaks, plumbing issues, or inadequate waterproofing can result in water intrusion and subsequent mold growth.
  3. Flooding: Buildings that have experienced flooding or water damage are at a higher risk of developing mold problems if not properly remediated.
Biological Contaminants

Biological contaminants, including mold, bacteria, and viruses, can thrive in indoor environments, particularly in the presence of moisture. Sources of biological contaminants include:

  1. Dampness and water damage: Moisture-sustaining conditions support the growth of mold and bacteria, which can trigger allergic reactions and respiratory issues.
  2. Poor maintenance and hygiene practices: Inadequate cleaning, improper waste management, and neglected food storage areas can contribute to the proliferation of bacteria and viruses.
Recognizing Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome 

Identifying the symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome is crucial for early intervention and prevention. These symptoms may include:

  • Throat irritation
  • Breathing exercises 
  • Runny nose
  • Tight chest 
  • Allergy-like symptoms
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Mental fog
  • Hard to focus
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Chills 
Preventative Measures and Solutions 

There are practical steps you can take to mitigate Sick Building Syndrome and create a healthier indoor environment:

  1. Improve indoor air quality (IAQ): Regularly maintain HVAC systems, including cleaning air filters and ducts, and ensure proper ventilation and air circulation.
  2. Reduce potential sources of pollutants: Opt for environmentally friendly cleaning products, avoid smoking indoors, and limit using materials that emit harmful substances.
  3. Manage humidity levels: Control moisture and promptly address any leaks or water damage to prevent mold and bacteria growth.
  4. Educate building occupants: Promote good hygiene practices, such as regular handwashing, and encourage individuals to take breaks and get fresh air throughout the day.
  5. Conduct regular inspections: Periodic assessments of the building’s air quality, ventilation systems, and potential sources of contamination can help identify and address issues promptly.
  6. Seek professional help: If the problem persists or you suspect severe contamination, consult experts specializing in indoor air.