Here’s what Sick Building Syndrome looks like

In 2011, the town hall and police department for the seaside hamlet of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, had to be completely vacated and relocated. The reason for the evacuation – rising cases of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

Staff members were experiencing headaches, nausea, fatigue, and burning noses.

Staff members were experiencing headaches, nausea, fatigue, and burning noses, according to the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier.1 Staff were out sick one or two days of the week from illness prior to the move. Soon after moving to temporary trailers, employees began feeling better.

Building inspectors found that the town hall, built in 1905, was infested with bacteria from dead rats in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts and with mold in the walls.

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome is an illness that affects building occupants. Symptoms are consistent with illnesses connected to building sources and aren’t attributable to sources outside of the building.2

Sick Building Syndrome is an illness that affects building occupants.

When occupants leave a building, their symptoms will improve. This was the case with the Sullivan’s Island town hall employees.

Sick Building Syndrome symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • eye, nose, and/or throat irritation
  • dry cough
  • dry or itchy skin
  • concentration difficulties
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • light sensitivity
  • flu-like symptoms

Sick Building Syndrome is a serious concern for building administrators entrusted to safeguard the safety and health of building occupants. Administrators can face personal and financial loss when buildings cause occupants to fall ill due to unmanaged SBS sources.

Health and safety concerns have been elevated following the COVID-19 pandemic, as employees return to work and as facilities host thousands of businesses and their employees.

As the Sullivan’s Island town hall administrators found, it can be expensive – $55,000 to create a location for the temporary trailers – to mitigate an SBS problem after the fact. Potential contaminant sources should be identified before they become a health concern.

Sick Building Syndrome sources

There can be many causes for Sick Building Syndrome. The primary sources for SBS are indoor air pollutants attributed to biological and chemical contaminants.3

The primary sources for SBS are indoor air pollutants attributed to biological and chemical contaminants.

In the case of the Sullivan’s Island town hall, the primary sources were biological in nature – the presence of rats, bacteria from their corpses, and mold were the main culprits for that building. But biological contaminants can include:

  • viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19
  • bacteria
  • fungi
  • mold
  • pollen

Chemical contaminants may include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaning products and tobacco smoke.

What can be done about Sick Building Syndrome?

The administrators of the Sullivan’s Island town hall took the proper steps by moving occupants out of the severely compromised building and working to identify and remove source contaminants. By observing an improvement in the staff’s health after leaving the town hall, it was clear that contaminants were behind their SBS symptoms.

But there is more that building administrators can do to improve air quality. Administrators should work with Air Quality Experts to find long-term clean air solutions.

The IQAir Clean Air Facility program can help identify sources of contaminants, implement custom solutions appropriate to the facility, and develop a robust air quality monitoring plan to help prevent future SBS concerns.

Potential solutions may include:

The takeaway

Facilities administrators shouldn’t wait until symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome are felt by building occupants. By identifying potential sources of contaminants, proactively managing the contaminants, installing appropriate air cleaning technology, and monitoring air quality, SBS need never disrupt the health and productivity of people in their workplace.

The number one air cleaning solution for your home.

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