A report done by the World Health Organization Committee in 1984 stated that around thirty percent (30%) of remodeled and newly built buildings locally and internationally have encountered problems that are related to indoor air quality. Most situations are often temporary; however some infrastructures experience continuing problems. Majority of such cases are consequences of inconsistent and improper building operation and maintenance that does not conform to the required upkeep of its original design as well as approved operating procedures. In some instances, problems about indoor air quality come from inadequate building design and activities of past and present building occupants.
SBS or sick building syndrome is a term generally used to describe circumstances wherein building inhabitants experience adverse health and comfort effects that manifests and can be traced back to a period of time which is spent inside the building, but there is no particular illness or cause which can be identified. Complaints can happen at a particular zone or room; or it could be a widespread incident all over the whole building.
BRI or building related illness on the other hand is a term used when signs and symptoms of a diseases or health problem has been identified and can now be directly credited to the presence of airborne contaminants inside the building.
The signs and symptoms or a sick building syndrome (SBS) usually comprise of the following: headaches, throat, eyes and nose irritation, dry skin, dry cough, nausea and dizziness, fatigue, odor sensitivity and difficulty in concentrating. The cause or causes of the mentioned symptoms are not known. Individuals who are complaining of such health problems while inside the building account that they feel relief or become better health wise when they leave the building.
Building related illnesses have symptoms like cough, fever, chest tightness, chills and muscle fatigue or pains. Said symptoms are diagnosed clinically and have causes which can clearly be pinpointed. Significantly, some complaints may be attributed to other causes that are generally contracted from other sources. These may comprise of illness contracted outside the building like allergies, stress related symptoms due to job dissatisfaction including other psychosocial factors. Nonetheless, research show that symptoms are normally aggravated by the indoor quality of an infrastructure.
Sick Building Syndrome Causes
Radon and Asbestos
Sick building syndrome and building related illness are often interrelated to acute or immediate health problems. Studies show that prolonged exposure to radon and asbestos causes long term diseases. Consequently, these are not considered to be within the list of causes for sick building syndrome. Although illnesses which are associated with said chemicals are serious health hazards and both must be incorporated in any complete appraisal of the internal air quality of a building.
The following are contributory factors to sick building syndrome (SBS):
1. Inadequate ventilation – building ventilation standards in the early and mid 1900s require fifteen cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outside air for each single building occupant. Such requirement is necessary for the main reason of body odor dilution and removal. However, the 1973 oil embargo forced national energy conservation measures to reduce the amount of outdoor air given for ventilation of five cubic feet per minute for each building occupant. The reduction of outside air ventilation produced many cases where air ventilation produced many cases where air ventilation rates were found to be insufficient to sustain the comfort and health of building occupants. Insufficient ventilation can also arise when heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems inside the building cannot efficiently distribute air to all individuals. This is considered to be an essential aspect in sick building syndrome. In order to attain satisfactory indoor air quality while simultaneously reducing energy consumption, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers or ASHRAE revised its ventilation requirement standard, which is to provide a least amount of fifteen cubic feet per minute (15 cfm) outdoor air per person, which is likewise equivalent to twenty cfm (20 cfm) per person in office spaces. Sixty cubic feet per minute (60 cfm) per person is necessary in certain places or spaces like smoking lounges. Air requirements vary depending on the activities that generally arisen in each places.
2. Chemical impurities from indoor spaces – majority of indoor pollutants originate form sources inside a building or infrastructure. Carpeting, adhesives, manufactured wood products, upholstery, pesticides, copy/Xerox machines and cleaning agents emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which include formaldehyde. Tobacco smoke from the environment contributes significantly to high levels of volatile organic compounds, including toxic compounds and other matters of a particulate nature that can affect the respiratory system. Studies show that certain volatile organic compounds contribute to chronic and acute illnesses when expose to high concentrations where some are carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple volatile organic compounds can likewise result to acute reactions on health. Combustible products like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide including respirable particles come from woodstoves, gas space heaters, fireplaces, un-vented kerosene and gas stoves.
3. Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources – outdoor air which enters a closed space like a building can be a cause of air pollution inside any enclosed infrastructure. These usually comes from exhausts of motor vehicles, vent plumbing and building exhausts, likely from kitchens and bathrooms which enters the building due to improper locations of vents for air intake, windows and other openings. Additionally, a nearby garage which gives off combustion products can enter the building via all other openings.
4. Biological Contaminants – viruses, molds, bacteria and pollen are classified as biological contaminants. Such contaminants propagate and thrive in stale or stagnant water which may have accumulated in humidifiers, ducts, drain pans, tiles, and insulation or ceiling tiles. Bird droppings including that of insects are also sources of contaminants if they are not cleaned off for a long period of time. Physiologic symptoms linked to biological contamination comprises of fever, chest tightening, chills, coughs, allergies and muscle pains or aches. Common allergic reactions attributed to biological contaminants consists of upper respiratory congestion and irritations of the mucous membranes.
The above mentioned contaminants can partly contribute to inadequate temperature, lightning or humidity. They can also combine together and are attributable to adverse health effects. Particular causes of sick building syndrome grievances can continue to be unknown even after a building investigation has already transpired.
Procedures for Building Investigation
The objective of having a building investigation is to determine and solve indoor air quality complaints in a way that prevents them from happening again reducing the possibility of creating other related problems. To attain this kind of objective, it is necessary for the examiner or investigator to find out whether a complaint which has been file or made is in fact related to connected to indoor air quality by discovering the root or origin of the complain and looking for the most suitable corrective action.
The procedure of an indoor air quality investigation is best described as a sequence of information gathering, formation of hypothesis and hypothesis testing. Normally the process starts with a walkthrough inspection of the area where the problem is purported to be, in order to be able to give data on the four fundamental factors which affects indoor air quality: 1) the occupants; 2) the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (HVAC); 3) the potential pollutant pathways; 4) the possible sources of impurities/contaminant.
Preparation for a walkthrough inspection incorporates documentation of information that are easy to obtain like the history of the building and its occupants; the complaints of the occupants; knowing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning sections. This process can be achieved by notifying the occupants of the pending investigation and identifying key people who can be interviewed for needed information and access. Walkthroughs necessitate visual assessment of outside areas inside the building and consultations with the building staff and occupants.
The preliminary walkthrough must permit the investigator to gain sufficient information to be able to deduce or postulate a hypotheses or premise, and test the hypothesis to verify whether the problem is solved. Should the problem be solved, steps must be taken to make sure that the problem does not arise again. But if inadequate information is acquired from the initial investigation in order to formulate a hypothesis or if preliminary tests fell short to reveal the problem, the current investigator must move on to amass additional information in order to permit the construction of additional hypothesis. The course of action of formulating, testing and evaluating hypotheses continue until the problem is solved.
While taking samples of the air for assessment of contaminants looks like the reasonable step to solve the complaints of building occupants, this process does not offer information about possible causes. The concentration of contaminant levels hardly ever exceeds the existing standards and guidelines even if occupants keep on reporting health problems. Air supply procedures must not be done until adequate information on the factors mentioned above has been gathered. Sampling strategy must be based on a comprehensive understanding of the ways on how the building is operated and the nature of complaints.