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Does Your Building Have the Flu? Sick Building Syndrome

Posted on January 20, 2015
by Wendy Stackhouse

Have you ever had headaches, but only at work? Or felt like you were coming down with something day after day, but it turned out to be nothing by the time you got home? You might have been suffering from Sick Building Syndrome: a real medical condition.

Difficult to diagnose and sometimes assumed to be psychological, biological and chemical contaminants and even gases in a building can cause severe health problems that go away after a short time away from the location: Sick Building Syndrome.

Health Problems that are signs of possible Sick Building Syndrome

  • Headache
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose or throat
  • Itchy skin
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Acute odor sensitivity

It is very difficult to identify the actual contaminant causing Sick Building Syndrome symptoms and some of these same symptoms could be put down to stress, allergies or job dissatisfaction. However, if enough people who spend time in one building complain of the same kind of symptoms, the indoor air in the building may be at fault.

What are the causes of Sick Building Syndrome?

  1. Inadequate Ventilation–Ventilation requirements were lowered during the energy crisis of the 1970’s to very low rates to save energy by keeping heated and air conditioned air recirculating. These levels were found to be inadequate, however, and today’s recommendation is 3 times higher and higher still for buildings which have a lot of air pollution due to their use. Unfortunately, many buildings constructed in the late 20th century still have the lower ventilation rates.
  2. Indoor Contaminants–Indoor air pollution can come from many materials and products used in building interiors: carpets, upholstery, adhesives, pressed wood, copiers, cleaning products, paints and pesticides are only a partial list. The chemicals given off in particles or VOC’s are a pretty dangerous bunch including formaldehyde and carbon monoxide.
  3. Outdoor Contaminants–Garages and high vehicular traffic can cause a high level of combustion exhaust to enter a building through vents and windows. High levels of outdoor contaminants get trapped indoors when there is not enough ventilation.
  4. Biological Contaminants–Mold, pollen, viruses and bacteria can accumulate in a ventilation system and cause allergic reactions and disease. Biological contamination can cause symptoms like: fever, coughing, muscle aches, irritation of mucous membranes, chest tightness, chills and upper respiratory congestion. Legionnaire’s Disease can be deadly and comes from bacteria which grow in ventilation systems.

What can you do about Sick Building Syndrome?

  • Building owners should make sure that their buildings are ventilated according to local building codes.
  • Ventilation systems should be cleaned regularly and tested to make sure they are functioning well.
  • Air filters should be replaced on schedule and smoking moved outdoors.
  • Any stained carpeting or ceiling tile should be replaced.
  • Any visible mold is a sign of much more that cannot be seen. Any signs of mold must be investigated and remediated right away.

If you suspect your building is “sick,” call in professionals to test your indoor air. Clean your ventilation systems including ducts and vents, and replace all air filters and start a maintenance schedule. You want your tenants or employees to be happy, healthy and productive. Don’t let your building make them sick!

AirTek hopes that all of the places where you spend your time, at home, at work, at play, are healthy and well-maintained!

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