The term ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (SBS) is used to describe situations in which users of a building experience acute health problems or discomfort, which appear to be linked to the time that is spent in the building in question, but without a specific illness or cause being identified.
In 1984, a report was published by the WHO (World Health Organisation), which stated that 30% of the new and renovated buildings throughout the world, may be associated with symptoms relating to poor indoor air quality.
The first striking characteristic of this syndrome is that this generally doesn’t occur in one person, but in a whole group. Therefore it doesn’t concern individual cases, but most commonly occurs in several employees in the same building. Generally, this occurs in closed office spaces with a ventilation system.
The second characteristic of this phenomenon is that the symptoms are diverse, non-specific and usually innocuous: severe fatigue, irritability, dizziness, nausea, irritation of the eyes, nasal catarrh, tight feeling across the chest, more airways infections than usual, etc.
Sick Building Syndrome is often correlated with poor air quality, on account of there being no HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation and Air-conditioning), or alternatively if this system is faulty. A poorly functioning HVAC system may be the result of a poor design or inadequate maintenance, resulting in insufficient ventilation capacity and/or insufficient hygienic ventilation air. In turn, this poor ventilation can result in an accumulation of CO2 and particulates.
Other causes can be blamed on VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the indoor air, caused by the degassing of certain construction materials and furniture and through the use of cleaning agents. The use of certain fragrance devices and air fresheners can also significantly increase the level of VOCs in the indoor air.
Moisture is a cause and a key precursor for microbiological contamination caused by fungi and fungal spores and bacteria, which in turn can again cause Sick Building Syndrome.
The symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome are often comparable to symptoms that occur in human exposure to aerosols and bioaerosols. Commonly occurring symptoms include irritations of the eyes, nose and throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; smell and taste sensations. Fungi and bacteria – often present in environments that are too humid – can cause allergic reactions.
The symptoms are usually individual and not limited to the list above. It is important to realise that every individual reacts differently to exposure to pollution. The psychological aspect also figures prominently. On account of, for example, a heavy work load and the associated stress, the auto-immune system can be affected, because of which the resistance to outside influences, such as aerosols, decreases perceptibly.
Symptoms typically occur over a short period of time, whilst someone is present in a certain building or afterwards – usually within a period of a few weeks. In addition, the symptoms will soon disappear once the building is no longer entered. In exceptional cases, the symptoms can last for longer or even result in permanent long-term symptoms.
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