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Sick building syndrome

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a combination of ailments (a syndrome) associated with an individual's place of work; typically, but not always, an office building (though there have also been instances of SBS in residential buildings). A 1984 World Health Organization report into the syndrome suggested up to 30% of new and remodelled buildings worldwide may be linked to symptoms of SBS. Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and are often 'cured' by boosting the overall turn-over rate in fresh air exchange with the outside air. Other causes have been attributed to contaminants produced by out-gassing of some types of building materials, or improper exhaust ventilation of light industrial chemicals used within.


Symptoms of SBS

Building occupants complain of symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation
  • Dry cough; dry or itchy skin
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to odors
  • Increased incidence of asthma attacks/appearance of asthma in non-asthmatics
  • Personality changes such as rage/weeping/paranoia/depression
  • Putative cases of bronchitis or pneumonia which do not respond to antibiotic treatment
  • Symptoms resembling Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This is a shortened list, as over 50 possible symptoms are known. It is possible for a dozen sick occupants to report a surprising array of individual symptoms which may be dismissed as unconnected. The key to discovery is the increased incidence of illnesses in general with onset or exacerbation within a fairly close time frame - usually within a period of weeks. Some sources will insist that for SBS to exist, these symptoms must disappear soon after the occupants go outside. However, this view discounts the lingering effects of various neurotoxins, which may not clear up when the occupant leaves the building. In particularly sensitive individuals, the potential for long-term health effects cannot be overlooked.


The contributing factors often relate to the design of the built environment, and may include combinations of some or all of the following:

  • Indoor air pollution
  • Toxic mold
  • Artificial fragrance, such as dryer sheets
  • Poor or inappropriate lighting (including absence of or only limited access to natural sunlight)
  • Poor heating or ventilation
  • Microbial or mite contamination of HVAC systems.
  • Bad acoustics
  • Poorly designed furnishings, furniture and equipment (e.g. computer monitors, photocopiers, etc.).
  • Poor ergonomics.
  • Chemical contamination.
  • Biological contamination.

To the owner or operator of a "sick building", the symptoms may include high levels of employee sickness or absenteeism, lower productivity, low job satisfaction and high employee turnover.


  • Pollutant source removal or modification to storage of sources.
  • Replacement of water-stained ceiling tiles and carpeting.
  • Institution of smoking restrictions.
  • Use paints, adhesives, solvents, and pesticides in well ventilated areas, and use of these pollutant sources during periods of non-occupancy.
  • Increase the number of air exchanges, The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Engineers recommend a minimum of 8.4 air exchanges per 24 hour period.
  • Proper and Frequent Maintenance of [1]HVAC systems


  1. ^ Sick Building Syndrome and What You Can Do About It (Sept. 2005). CaluTech UV Air. Retrieved on 2006-12-05.


  • Martín-Gil J, Yanguas MC, San José JF, Rey-Martínez and Martín-Gil FJ. "Outcomes of research into a sick hospital". Hospital Management International, 1997, pp 80-82. Sterling Publications Limited.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sick_building_syndrome". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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