Sick building syndrome

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Sick building syndrome (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. A 1984 World Health Organization report suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be subject of complaints related to poor indoor air quality.[1]

Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Other causes have been attributed to contaminants produced by outgassing of some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), molds (see mold health issues), improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (byproduct of some office machinery), light industrial chemicals used within, or lack of adequate fresh-air intake/air filtration (see Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value).

Symptoms are often dealt with after the fact by boosting the overall turn-over rate of fresh air exchange with the outside air, but the new green building design goal should be able to avoid most of the SBS problem sources in the first place, minimize the ongoing use of VOC cleaning compounds, and eliminate conditions that encourage allergenic mold growth.


Building occupants complain of symptoms such as sensory irritation of the eyes,[2] nose, throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions; and odor and taste sensations.[3]

Several sick occupants may report individual symptoms which do not appear to be connected. The key to discovery is the increased incidence of illnesses in general with onset or exacerbation within a fairly close time frame - usually within a period of weeks. In most cases, SBS symptoms will be relieved soon after the occupants leave the particular room or zone.[4] However, there can be lingering effects of various neurotoxins, which may not clear up when the occupant leaves the building. In some cases, particularly in sensitive individuals, there can be long-term health effects.


Sick Building Syndrome can be caused by inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources, and/or biological contaminants. Many volatile organic compounds, which are considered chemical contaminants, can cause acute effects on the occupants of a building. "Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants" and can all cause SBS. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently revised its ventilation standard to provide a minimum of 15 cfm of outdoor air per person (20 cfm/person in office spaces). In addition, pollution from outdoors, such as motor vehicle exhaust, can contribute to SBS.[1]


There might be a gender difference in reporting rates of sick building syndrome because women tend to report more symptoms than men do. Along with this, some studies have found that women have a more responsive immune system and are more prone to mucosal dryness and facial erythema. Also, women are alleged by some to be more exposed to indoor environmental factors because they have a greater tendency to have clerical jobs, wherein they are exposed to unique office equipment and materials (example: blueprint machines), whereas men often have jobs based outside of offices.[8]

Critical questions[edit]

The term Sick Building Syndrome, SBS, describes many different concepts without necessary connection, predominantly:

1. A building with dampness or clear mildew smell. (Sick Building).

2. A result from a questionnaire with habitants in a building where more than a certain number of people responded that they had experienced trouble requested when they reside in the building (Sick Building Syndrome, SBS).

3. An illness manifested through certain symptoms that the affected attribute to reside in a particular building (Sick Building).

Regarding 1. it has been stated that even in buildings with moisture and mold there is no necessarily over-reporting of symtoms.

Regarding 2, one can note an over-reporting from certain buildings of the requested symptoms, known as "SBS symptoms" (dry skin, dry mucous membranes, skin redness, mental fatigue, headache, upper respiratory tract infections, cough, hoarseness, itching, nausea/dizziness); but despite careful investigation, nothing can be found in the building that provides an explanation.

You should also note that 2. does not take a position on the "cause" of the symtoms, except that the respondents themselves may have symptoms they associate with residence in the building. (In all buildings, people associate their stay in the building with what is called "SBS symptoms", but only when the questionnaire response indicates that more than 30 percent of users are reporting problems, the condition is described as "Sick Building Syndrome".)

Regarding 3. people perceive themselves significantly disturbed by their symptoms, and do often contact health care. In 2. respondents do not necessarily reflect over their discomfort. It is sometimes just a passive response to the survey questions. In 3. the perceived symptoms is a suffering that significantly interferes with daily life, an illness.

Discussion during the time from 1990 to 2005 have rarely paid attention to these different categories. The main track has been that everything can be explained by specific substances in the air or some other physical indoor environmental factors. After a considerable amount of research, several hypothetical causes has been investigated, without answers.


In the late 1970s, it was noted that nonspecific symptoms were reported by tenants in newly constructed homes, offices, and nurseries. In media it was called "office illness”. "The term "Sick Building Syndrome" was coined by WHO in 1986, when they also estimated that 10-30% of newly built office buildings in the West had indoor air problems. Early Danish and British studies reported symptoms.

Poor indoor environments attracted attention. The Swedish allergy study (SOU 1989:76) designated "sick building" as a cause of the allergy epidemic as was feared. In the 1990s, therefore, extensive research into "sick building" was carried out. Various physical and chemical factors in the buildings were examined on a broad front.

The problem was highlighted increasingly in media and was described as a "ticking time bomb". Many studies were performed in individual buildings.

In the 1990s "sick buildings" were contrasted against "healthy buildings". The chemical contents of building materials was highlighted. Many building material manufacturers were actively working to gain control of the chemical content and to replace criticized additives. The ventilation industry advocated above all more well-functioning ventilation. Others perceived ecological construction, natural materials, and simple techniques as a solution.

At the end of the 1990s came an increased distrust of the concept of "sick building". A dissertation at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm 1999 questioned the methodology of previous research, and a Danish study from 2005 showed these flaws experimentally. It was suggested that Sick Building Syndrome was not really a coherent syndrome and was not a disease to be individually diagnosed. In 2006 the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare recommended in the medical journal Läkartidningen that "Sick building syndrome" should not be used as a clinical diagnosis. Thereafter, it has become increasingly less common to use terms such as "sick buildings" and "Sick Building Syndrome" in research. However, the concept remains alive in popular culture and is used to designate the set of symptoms related to poor home or work environment engineering. "Sick building" is therefore an expression used especially in the context of workplace health,[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Sick Building Syndrome". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  2. ^ 5 Most Common Office Illnesses.5 Most Common Office Illnesses
  3. ^ Godish, Thad (2001). Indoor Environmental Quality. New York: CRC Press. pp. 196-197. ISBN 1-56670-402-2
  4. ^ "Sick Building Syndrome." National Safety Council. (2009) Retrieved April 27, 2009. [1]
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  8. ^ Godish, Thad (2001). Indoor Environmental quality. New York: CRC Press. pp. 196-197. ISBN 1-56670-402-2
  9. ^ "Sick Building Syndrome - Fact Sheet". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2013-06-06. 
  10. ^ "Sick Building Syndrome". National Health Service, England. Retrieved 2013-06-06. 

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