Sick Building Syndrome

Sick buildings harbor dangerous substances that you are inhaling with every breath you take and that wind up on the largest organ of your body, which is your skin. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the term “sick building syndrome” 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 particular building. There may be a liability case if this happens in the workplace, but usually there is no specific illness or cause that can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building.  Occupants of “sick” buildings may complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort like headaches, eye irritation, dry cough, itchy skin, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and sensitivity to odors.

The World Health Organization defines sick building syndrome as “an excess of work-related irritations on the skin and mucus membranes.” Most people experience a relief of symptoms once they exit the building. The WHO reports that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings may have substances and design flaws that contribute to sick building syndrome.

While the exact causes of sick building syndrome are not known, some of the problems have been linked to inadequate ventilations, chemical contaminants from indoor sources, chemical contaminants from outdoor sources and biological contaminants.

Bacteria, molds, pollen and viruses are types of biological contaminants. They may breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting or insulation. Sometimes insects or bird droppings can be a source of biological contamination. Symptoms related to biological contaminants include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches and upper respiratory congestion.

The outdoor air that enters a building can be a source of indoor air pollution.  For example, pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents and building exhausts can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows and other openings. Sometimes problems occur when a building is operated or maintained in a way that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures.

Working in a sick building with or without physical symptoms could eventually lead to life threatening or crippling diseases. If you suspect that the building your work in is “sick” demand an immediate inspecting of the building. Your company has an obligation to provide you with a safe work environment.