“Sick building syndrome” is a symptom of poor quality indoor air. Fumes given off (offgassing) by synthetic chemicals and toxins used in modern building materials that cannot escape a tightly-constructed, super-insulated home build up in the indoor environment. Moisture also is trapped; mold and mildew can be the result. Radon, a radioactive substance in the ground can seep into buildings.
Some people are exposed to toxins in the workplace. Even those not engaged in occupations with direct exposures (such as the printing industry, dry cleaning, hair salons or pest control) can be exposed to fumes trapped in tightly sealed, energy-efficient buildings. Re-circulated air in these buildings can hold fumes from carpets, cleaning chemicals, pesticides, copiers and inks.
Sick Building Syndrome
During energy shortages in the 1970’s home builders began “super-insulating” new and remodeled structures. Indoor pollution is now a concern, along with outdoor pollution. Better sealing technology keeps energy costs down, but a tightly-sealed home requires a proper ventilation system to replace stale air.
Modern living with all its comforts and conveniences, has introduced an exceptional amount of moisture into indoor air. Temperature and moisture differentials between indoor and outdoor conditions place a stress on the building itself.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is not a specific illness, nor does it have a specific cause. The term is applied when 20% or more of the occupants of a building exhibit symptoms that appear to be linked directly to spending time in that building or in a specific part of that building. Signs and symptoms can include: headache, nausea, dizziness, eye/nose/throat irritation, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, sensitivity to odors, cold and flu-like symptoms, asthma symptoms, and personality changes. What distinguishes SBS is that these symptoms disappear shortly after the person leaves the building (although there have been lingering effects attributed to neurotoxins).
What causes SBS?
While the specific cause(s) of SBS are not definitely known, there are several areas of concern: chemical contaminants (from both inside and outside sources); biological contaminants; inadequate ventilation; electromagnetic radiation; psychological factors; poor ergonomics, lighting, acoustics and humidity.
There was a boom in housing demand following WWII. As chronic illness surfaced in the population living in hurried, mass produced housing a German group discovered the indoor environment in these homes was not healthy, and the bau-biologie, or building biology, movement was formed.
The green building movement focuses on construction that saves the planet from the excessive consumption of human beings by using more natural materials. Building biology encompasses this concept – and more.
Building biology views the home as an integrated system of sub-systems that cooperate with each other and interact with the natural environment. The indoor environment should replicate, as much as possible, the natural environment. Walls are considered our third skin (after first, our own skin and second, our clothing) and natural building materials are favored.
Special attention is given to: building materials and processes; EMFs (electromagnetic fields) and EMR (electromagnetic radiation); and IAQ (indoor air quality).
An ideal building according to Building Biology parameters:
- Uses natural, nontoxic building materials (both exterior and interior)
- Reduces man-made EMFs (as close to zero as possible while sleeping)
- Avoids naturally occurring geopathic disturbances
- Has a natural balance of ionization
- Heats with radiant sources
- Uses light and color as found in nature
- Balances heat, cooling and humidity
- And more
A building investigation can identify IAQ problems and remedy them without creating additional problems (although a trial-and-error approach may be needed in some cases). Some remedies for SBS include: removing or modifying any sources of pollution; modifying ventilation rates and air distribution; adding air cleaning devices; and educating building occupants/management on proper maintenance to avoid future problems.
(photo: Jessica Gale via MorgueFree)