Building-related illnesses are a group of disorders whose cause is linked to the environment of buildings.
What about 'old building syndrome'?
'Old building syndrome' is another related term you might come across, although there isn't really a distinct definition for this one. The idea behind old building syndrome is that there is a greater chance of having SBS and/or BRI with older buildings.
This is because:
a) Older buildings may have been built using toxic materials that are now outlawed or limited (i.e. lead).
b) Since they've been around longer, there is a greater chance that older buildings have water damage from leaks, flooding, etc., as well as more time for things like toxic mold to grow and spread.
Many more different terms
Many different terms have been used to describe the phenomenon of reported high incidence of illness or unwellness suffered by people for no apparent reason in certain buildings; these include 'building sickness', 'sick office syndrome' and 'office-eye syndrome'. There are also older and more vague terms such as 'tight building syndrome' or 'toxic carpet syndrome'.
Facts about indoor air and the link to SBS and BRIs
Research suggests that over 30% of buildings may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ). Some problems in buildings may be short-term, but others could be long-term issues.
Indicators of SBS include:
- Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, such as; headache, eye, nose, or throat irritation, dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue, and sensitivity to odors.
- The cause of the symptoms is not known.
- Most of the complainants report relief soon after leaving the building.
Indicators of BRI include:
- Building occupants complain of symptoms such as; cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, and muscle aches.
- The symptoms can be clinically defined and have clearly identifiable causes.
- Complainants may require prolonged recovery times after leaving the building.
Causes of problems in buildings
The following could be causes or contributing factors:
- Inadequate ventilation — the reduced outdoor air provided for ventilation in building and not efficiently distributed air to the buildings occupants.
- Chemicals and indoor contamination — from building materials and equipment indoors (e.g, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde).
- Chemicals from outdoors — such as; air pollution, combustion products, pollutants from motor vehical exhausts.
- Biological contaminants — such as; bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses.
A word about radon and asbestos...
SBS and BRI are associated with acute or immediate health problems. Radon and asbestos cause long-term diseases which occur years after exposure, and are therefore not considered to be among the causes of sick buildings.
Symptoms and illnesses
Symptoms and illnesses related or attributed to indoor environments are common. A variety of factors associated with the environment and with the patient impact these symptoms, which may reflect new disorders, exacerbation of preexisting conditions (eg, rhinitis, asthma), and/or disorders caused by specific workplace exposures (eg, occupational asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis).
Building-related symptoms can have a substantial impact on health. It is important for the clinician to recognize when symptoms are related to the patient's workplace, as these should be treated as occupational illnesses.
Building-related illnesses with known causes
Symptoms of sick building syndrome
Allergic and immunologic disease
Chemicals and other substances
Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
Odor or taste complaints
Are building-related health issues making an unwanted comeback?
The current trend is to have your house well insulated and have nice new windows and to get a low bill for heating your house. After making a residential building insulated and airtight during the refurbishment process, the natural ventilated building no longer provides its occupant with enough fresh air. And occupants ask what happened and where is the problem? And can the mechanical ventilation solve the problem? We take a look into the concept of a sick building syndrome, how this has come about and are we facing this again today?