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Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)! What’s That?

If you need assistance with sick building syndrome (SBS) as discussed in this article call us at 973-366-4660 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President

February 4, 2020

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is usually described as an unidentified cause of an acute illness, nausea, irritation or even emergency evacuation of an office or commercial/public building. individuals often have a cessation of the symptoms after leaving the building. More specifically, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) can be associated with practically any condition that seems to stop after exiting the building. Generally, the symptoms are acute (immediate or short term) not chronic (long term). In some cases, the conditions may prompt a panic exit from the building or even hospitalization (for example carbon monoxide).

Symptoms of SBS

They can include headache, eye/ear/throat irritation, dizziness, itching skin, fatigue, high anxiety, asthma attacks, nausea, even inability to concentrate or loss of memory.


Many factors can be involved: Poor ventilation, excessive heat, odors, dust, very low or high humidity. Significant changes in the work environment such as relocation, changes in numbers of occupants, noise and odors all can have an impact on a person’s ability to stay well and function effectively. Stress in the job itself can add to whatever encountered factors are less than ideal to where the body can no longer effectively cope with the situation whether the cause is stress, chemical agents, or both. New furniture, paints, varnishes, carpet adhesives can add a variety of chemicals to the air one breaths. Changes in occupancy especially increase in personnel in the same area may be greater than the environmental control can effectively deal with resulting in an SDS event.


The reaction can develop slowly and continues throughout the day. In other situations, the stress, from whatever scenarios, creates panic and the person or person must get out of the building immediately.

Testing To Identify The Cause

There are a variety of tests that can be taken to identify the cause. The basic tests are for:

  1. Carbon Dioxide – Yes, we exhale it but stagnant air can cause the CO2 levels so high it causes us to hyperventilate—results in dizziness, nausea, panic.
  2. Carbon Monoxide – This can be deadly. Symptoms are often headaches, dizziness, weakness, flushing of the skin. CO can often come from vehicle exhaust brought into the building from the street, loading docks, parking areas.
  3. Temperature – Often high temperatures—over 76°F can cause sweating, skin irritation, anxiety.
  4. Relative Humidity – Low humidity below 30% can cause dry eyes, itching skin, sore throats, sneezing, coughing. High humidity above 60% can encourage mold growth resulting in asthma, allergies, upper respiratory ailments and more.
  5. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – VOC’s can be perfumes, aftershave lotion, paint solvents, nail polishing removers, cleaning agents, glues, adhesives, varnishes, oils.
  6. Formaldehyde – Often an adhesive in furniture, glues, insulation, fire retardants and permanent press agent in drapes and furniture cloth and carpets.
  7. Molds – Since molds are outdoors as well as indoors, the important thing is to prevent them from finding an ideal indoor growth environment which is generally high humidity, dampness, flooding, condensate, dirt (mold food) and elevated temperature. The result of mold growth indoors can be allergies, asthma, respiratory irritation, even skin reactions.
  8. Allergens – The most common allergies are from cats, dogs, cockroaches, and dust mites. The cats and dogs don’t have to be in the building. Animal dander can be brought in on a person’s clothing in sufficient quantity to affect others. Dust mites and cockroach allergens can accumulate due simply to lax housekeeping and sanitation. Even perfumes, aftershave lotions, air fresheners can result in an allergic reaction.


Sometimes the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) conditions may be alleviated by just removing one stressor: job stress, VOCs, low humidity, formaldehyde. In other cases, a significant improvement in the indoor environmental quality must be achieved.

The solutions are as varied as the problems. Obtaining the assistance of an Indoor Indoor Air Quality Specialist is recommended.

We have almost 40 years of experience in dealing with SBS and IAQ problems. Contact us at 973-366-4660 or info@atlenv.com for a free quote.

For more information contact Atlantic Environmental.

Our primary service areas are NJNYNYCPACTDE(Boston) MARIWash DCWIMDMI(Chicago) ILVAIN(Atlanta) GAALNCSCTN(Dallas, Ft Worth) TXOKDCAR. We can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.

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