Sick Building Syndrome

Introduction to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building Related Illness (BRI)

  • The term “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. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building. The term “Building Related Illness” (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.

Indicators of SBS:

  • Complaints of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.
  • Cause of symptoms is not know.
  • Reports of relief soon after leaving the building.

Chemical contaminants from indoor sources

  • Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, paints, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde. Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions.

Biological contaminants

  • Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants.

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