Sick Building Syndrome
Written by: William Sergio
What is Sick Building Syndrome
Sick Building Syndrome is a condition that affects people who live in a building and suffer symptoms from chronic disease because of the conditions of the building they reside or work. The environment in the building puts the occupants at risk for upper respiratory infections. Sadly, 1 out of 4 buildings in America can be classified as sick.
Indicators of Sick Building Syndrome
– Usually, residents of a building will start to complain of symptoms associated with discomfort such as throat, nose, or eye irritation.
– Many of these people will find relief as soon as they are away from the building.
– Obvious signs would be visible such as mold that can be seen by the naked eye.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air pollution ranks as one of the TOP FIVE environmental risks to public health since 1990. Indoor air quality is defined as the temperature, humidity, ventilation, and chemical or biological contaminants of the air inside a building. Around the world, a death occurs EVERY 20 SECONDS due to poor indoor air quality. Statistically, 2 out of 3 indoor air quality problems involve inefficient HVAC and air duct systems.
One out of six people who suffer from allergies does so because of the direct relationship between fungi and bacteria in air duct systems. A buildup of just .042 inches of dirt on a heating or cooling coil can result in a decrease in efficiency of 21 percent. As a result of this, 64 million workers frequently experienced two or more symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) at work. These symptoms include nose irritation, eye irritation, and headaches.
The Cost of Sick Buildings
In fact, US adults miss about 14 million workdays per year as a result of asthma, an issue commonly triggered by poor indoor air quality. There is an estimated loss of $60 billion in productivity due to poor indoor air quality. Unfortunately, indoor air quality problems cost the US economy as much as $168 billion per year.
“Indoor air pollution is one of our biggest environmental health threats… bigger than toxic waste sites and the destruction of the ozone layer,” a statement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Benefits of Improving Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Reducing sick building symptoms through better indoor air quality and properly maintained HVAC systems can lead to $10-$30 billion in productivity gains. Approximately 1 % improved productivity would be equivalent to the whole energy cost of a building. Also, 8.56 percent of the average return on investment of an IAQ improvement program.
A 100,000 square foot building with 400 tons of AC can save $22,500 per year with a clean HVAC system. In reality, clean HVAC systems reduce energy costs by over 30 percent. There are other benefits such as removing allergens, eliminating odor, and sleeping better.
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
Inadequate ventilation is a major cause of Sick Building Syndrome. When ventilating, heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems do not properly distribute air it will cause inadequate ventilation. Also, chemical contaminants from indoor sources cause Sick Building Syndrome. When adhesives, upholstery, electronics, pesticides, and cleaning agents emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) it causes air pollution.
Another serious problem that causes Sick Building Syndrome is chemical contaminants from outdoor sources. When outdoor pollutants enter into a building through poorly located air intake vents or windows it can cause indoor air pollution. Biological contaminants such as mold, bacteria, or viruses also cause indoor air pollution. Mold is a health hazard and can cause fever, chills, cough, chest tightness, and other allergic responses.
How to inspect for Sick Building Syndrome
Building complaints must be taken seriously. Tenants should complain to their HOA until their complaints are properly dealt with. Then, an investigator has to determine whether the problem is related to indoor air quality.
What are the 4 main factors that influence indoor air quality?
- The HVAC System
- The Residents
- Potential pollutant pathways
- Possible Contaminant Sources
An inspector will come up with different scenarios that then need to be tested specifically. Interestingly, air sampling isn’t as effective as some may believe because it doesn’t provide information about possible causes. The sampling strategy has to be focused on the overall understanding of the operation of the building and the basis of the complaints.
Solutions to Sick Building Syndrome
Sick Building Syndrome is a condition that no one should suffer through. Once it is established that your building is contaminated, action must be taken. Your health is on the line.
First, when sources are known the first course of action should be to remove or modify the pollutant source. Routine maintenance of HVAC systems is crucial. Make sure AC filters are cleaned and replaced periodically.
Next, increase ventilation rates and air distribution is an important way to reduce indoor pollutant levels. Many HVAC systems are inadequate and should be replaced to meet today’s current standards.
Education about Sick Building Syndrome
Education is sometimes overlooked in situations like these. It is not common knowledge to everyone that internal conditions within your building, that you cannot see, can cause health problems. Thus, it is important for everyone who lives or works in a building to understand what Sick Building Syndrome is. When maintenance, residents, workers, management comprehend the problems associated with Indoor Air Quality, this can help to prevent problems and make them easier to solve.
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Before mitigating or remediating damage, BioResponse Restoration will first make sure that the source of damage is corrected. We work with several HVAC companies that first come in and fix the leak or source of the problem. Then, BioResponse Restoration comes in to restore your residence or business back to pre-disaster conditions.
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