Sick building syndrome, also known as building-related illness, is a controversial subject shrouded in mystery, hearsay, and conflicting arguments. The fact that there are no diagnostic tests and specific treatments for it stirs even more confusion.
What is clear, though, is that many people seem to succumb to illnesses as the result of exposure to a host of biological, physical, and chemical agents present in residential and commercial buildings. Therefore, sick building syndrome can be considered an umbrella term for multifarious risk factors and symptoms that occur in indoor environments.
And no matter how we choose to call them, rest assured that they are real.
Recognizing the enemy
In this day and age, people spend bulk of their time indoors, in their homes or at work. These environments may seem safe at the first glance, but unfortunately, many elusive health risks lurk there, operating silently. And once they strike, they are finally recognized as a problem.
Namely, there are various manifestations of sick building syndrome: lead poisoning, formaldehyde fumes, gases like radon volatile organic compounds (VOCs), etc. They can originate from various sources, including HVAC systems, paints, biological agents such as fungi and black mold, and building materials.
These compounds can have varying effects on people and many experts suspect that this depends on the medical condition of the patient. But, in general, sick building syndrome involves the following symptoms: Nausea, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, bloating, gas, cough, hoarseness, fatigue, congestion, itching, nosebleed, skin rash, eye irritation, sore throat, shortness of breath, chest pain, memory loss, etc.
Clearing the air
So, where does one start the battle against this siege?
Well, indoor quality is one of the main levels on which sick building syndrome can be observed. Namely, according to World Health Organization (WHO), 30% of new and refurbished buildings worldwide have problems with air quality. What is more, it is estimated that indoor air pollution can be 5-100 times worse than the pollution outdoors.
The good news is that there are many steps you can take to reduce the pollution. These vary from simple everyday habits such as opening windows every now and then to investments in new HVAC systems and indoor plants. A lack of ventilation is one of the most common root causes, while HEPA air filters are proven to decrease or eliminate airborne particles, decreasing the risk of sick building symptoms.
War on sickness
In any event, symptoms and building-related illnesses must be investigated and their sources uncovered. Aside from ventilation, other chief factors are temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide emissions. These can be improved with multi-utility, smart systems as well as other tech components. But, often, combating the sick building syndrome requires professional help.
There is much debate about whether asbestos and lead contribute to the sick building syndrome. What is clear, however, is that these two substances pose a grim threat. They also demand professional handling and detection methods.
For instance, a lot of Australians who live in homes built prior to 1990 rely on local services that offer asbestos removal in Sydney and other major cities like Brisbane. This dangerous gas plagues many offices and homes throughout the country because asbestos-containing products were phased out during the ’80 and ’90, while the total ban came only in 2003. Therefore, some cement materials, external wall claddings, ceilings, damp areas are still hazardous and call for professional inspection and treatment.
Furthermore, note that bodies like Environmental Protection Agency have formulated guidelines for prevention methods that can be followed to steer away from health risks that this syndrome encompasses. Likewise, when multiple workers get ill, the problem can be reported to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Primary care physicians and pediatricians treat mostly symptoms that are linked to poor indoor air quality.
As for the things you can do, bear in mind this one chief principle: prevention is the best cure.
In the light of sick building syndrome, this piece of wisdom rings true. Appropriate construction processes and building materials go a long way towards preventing illnesses and diseases. Moreover, modern technology allows us to create well-controlled, mini indoor ecosystems that are free from contaminants and pollutants. Finally, it must be mentioned that regular and thorough maintenance of crucial indoor systems can alleviate the problem significantly.
Fostering a positive change
Our living and workspaces are not some safe havens where we can lock in to escape outdoor air pollution. They might be riddled with a variety of risks that give rise to sick building syndrome.
On the brighter note, it is within our power to control the climatic conditions within buildings. The efforts revolve around the implementation of right technologies, adoption of proper policies, and building of healthy habits.
Taking proactive and preventive measures boosts work productivity and preserves the long-term well-being and quality of life. It improves comfort, safety, and efficiency of indoor environments. Thus, it is high time to turn over a new leaf and create the best possible work and life surroundings.
Will Sandford is a Sydney based wood architect, blogger and contributor on interior design and ecology blogs. Besides that, he is also interested in home improvement combined with green technology. In his spare time, Will enjoys surfing and rock climbing. He is also a regular contributor to SmoothDecorator. Connect with him on Twitter.
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