Sick Building Syndrome?

The Environmental Protection Agency defines Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) as “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.”

Complaints of those affected by poor office conditions include headaches, itchiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and throat irritation, none of which make for a successful workday. The symptoms often cease upon exiting the building. Aside from health-related reactions, Sick Building Syndrome can also contribute to an increase in absenteeism and stress and a reduction in work efficiency.

The History of SBS and Poor Indoor Air Quality

In the early to mid-1900s, when many buildings were originally constructed, ventilation standards were put in place for a much different reason than they are now. It was a time of substandard hygiene, and ventilation requirements were 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outside air per person, mostly to weaken the prevalent body odors.

The 1973 oil embargo soon came about and demanded stricter energy conservation regulations, reducing the ventilation standard to only 5 cfm. With less ventilation came much poorer air quality in buildings. Luckily, things have improved slightly in recent years. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers revised the standards to require 20 cfm of outside air in office spaces, and though that doesn’t solve all of our air quality problems, it certainly helps.

Sick Building Syndrome Causes

Sick Building Syndrome can stem from a number of various causes, but there are four main groups. Studies done by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) measured how often these sources contribute to poor air quality indoors.

  • Inadequate ventilation (52% of cases)
    This is often an HVAC issue, as the system fails to distribute air properly throughout the building.
  • Chemical toxins originating from indoors (16% of cases)
    Indoor sources are actually to blame for a large majority of the air pollution in a building. Adhesives, manufactured wood, and even emissions from equipment such as copy machines can contain dangerous toxins including formaldehyde.
  • Chemical toxins originating from outdoors (10% of cases)
    Outdoor toxins include anything from automobile exhaust to plumbing vents. If your office’s intake vents are improperly positioned, they could be taking in this pollution from the outdoors and mixing it in with the air you breathe.
  • Biological pollutants (5%)
    Biological pollutants encompass some of the things you may already associate with sickness and allergies, such as bacteria, mold, and viruses. These toxins often breed in collections of stagnant water in insulation and ducts, underneath tiles, and more.
    By bringing a green wall into your office, you are not only making it more visually appealing but also helping to combat all of these toxins in the air, creating a much healthier workspace.