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

If you need assistance with sick building syndrome (SBS) as discussed in this article call us at 1-800-344-4414 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

 

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

November 5, 2018

 

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is usually described as an unidentified cause of an acute illness, nausea or irritation in 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.

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.  New furniture, paints, varnishes, carpet adhesives can add a variety of chemicals to the air one breathes.

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

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 60° can encourage mold growth resulting in asthma, allergies, upper respiratory ailments and more.
  5. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) – VOC’s can be perfumes, after shave 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, cockroach, 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, after shave 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, VOC’s, low humidity, formaldehyde. In other cases, significant improvement to the indoor environmental quality must be achieved.

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

We have almost 40 years of experience in dealing with SBS and IAQ problems. Contact us at 1-800-344-4414 or info@atlenv.com for a free quote.

 

Our primary service areas for Indoor Air Quality Sampling/Testing are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.