Sick Building Syndrome

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. A 1984 World Health Organization report suggested up to 30% of new and remodelled buildings worldwide may be the subject of complaints related to poor indoor air quality.

Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Other causes have been attributed to contaminants produced by outgassing of some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), moulds (see mould health issues), improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (a by-product of some office machinery), light industrial chemicals used within, or lack of adequate fresh-air intake/air filtration

Symptoms are often dealt with after the fact by boosting the overall turn-over rate of fresh air exchange with the outside air, but the new green building design goal should be able to avoid most of the SBS problem sources in the first place, minimize the ongoing use of VOC cleaning compounds, and eliminate conditions that encourage allergenic mould growth.


Building occupants complain of symptoms such as sensory irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions; and odour and taste sensations.

Several sick occupants may report individual symptoms that do not appear to be connected. The key to discovery is the increased incidence of illnesses in general with onset or exacerbation within a fairly close time frame – usually within weeks. In most cases, SBS symptoms will be relieved soon after the occupants leave the particular room or zone. However, there can be lingering effects of various neurotoxins, which may not clear up when the occupant leaves the building. In some cases, particularly in sensitive individuals, there can be long-term health effects.


Sick Building Syndrome can be caused by inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources, and/or biological contaminants. Many volatile organic compounds, considered chemical contaminants, can cause acute effects on the occupants of a building. “Bacteria, moulds, pollen, and viruses are biological contaminants” and can all cause SBS. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently revised its ventilation standard to provide a minimum of 15 cfm of outdoor air per person (20 cfm/person in office spaces). In addition, pollution from outdoors, such as motor vehicle exhaust, can contribute to SBS.[1]

Critical questions

The term Sick Building Syndrome, SBS, describes many different concepts without necessary connection, predominantly:

1. A building with dampness or clear mildew smell. (Sick Building).

2. A result from a questionnaire with habitants in a building where more than a certain number of people responded that they had experienced trouble when they resided in the building (Sick Building Syndrome, SBS).

3. An illness manifested through certain symptoms that the affected attribute to reside in a particular building (Sick Building).

Regarding 1, it has been stated that even in buildings with moisture and mould there is no necessarily over-reporting of symptoms.

Regarding 2, one can note an over-reporting from certain buildings of the requested symptoms, known as “SBS symptoms” (dry skin, dry mucous membranes, skin redness, mental fatigue, headache, upper respiratory tract infections, cough, hoarseness, itching, nausea/dizziness); but despite careful investigation, nothing can be found in the building that explains.

You should also note that 2. does not take a position on the “cause” of the symptoms, except that the respondents themselves may have symptoms they associate with residents in the building. (In all buildings, people associate their stay in the building with what is called “SBS symptoms”, but only when the questionnaire response indicates that more than 30 percent of users are reporting problems, the condition is described as “Sick Building Syndrome”.)

Regarding 3, people perceive themselves as significantly disturbed by their symptoms and often contact health care. In 2. respondents do not necessarily reflect on their discomfort. It is sometimes just a passive response to the survey questions. In 3. The perceived symptoms are a suffering that significantly interferes with daily life, an illness.


  • Non-pressure cleaning for removal of algae, mould, and Gloeocapsa magma.
  • Using ozone to eliminate the many sources, such as VOC, moulds, mildews, bacteria, viruses, and even odours however numerous studies identify High-ozone shock treatment as ineffective despite commercial popularity and popular belief.
  • Replacement of water-stained ceiling tiles and carpeting.
  • Use of paints, adhesives, solvents, and pesticides in well-ventilated areas and use of these pollutant sources during periods of non-occupancy.
  • Increasing the number of air exchanges; the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends a minimum of 8.4 air exchanges per 24-hour period.
  • **Proper and frequent maintenance of HVAC systems.
  • Add toxin-absorbing plants, such as Sansevieria.

** The main purpose of HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems is to provide the people living or working inside buildings with “conditioned” air so that they will have a comfortable and safe work environment. “Conditioned” air means that air is clean and odour-free, and the temperature, humidity, and movement of the air are within certain comfort ranges.

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