Sick Building Syndrome

I first became aware of this at my last company I worked for where they remodeled the office with new flooring, paint, etc. One worker could not stand being in the area and had severe allergic reactions. She had to move her office way in the back of the building where the remodeling was not done.

The term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) is used to describe 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.

In the late 1970s, it was noted that nonspecific symptoms were reported by tenants in newly constructed homes, offices, and nurseries. In media it was called “office illness”. The term “sick building syndrome” was coined by the WHO in 1986, when they also estimated that 10–30% of newly built office buildings in the West had indoor air problems. Early Danish and British studies reported symptoms.

Poor indoor environments attracted attention. The Swedish allergy study (SOU 1989:76) designated “sick building” as a cause of the allergy epidemic as was feared. In the 1990s, therefore, extensive research into “sick building” was carried out. Various physical and chemical factors in the buildings were examined on a broad front.

The problem was highlighted increasingly in media and was described as a “ticking time bomb”. Many studies were performed in individual buildings.

In the 1990s “sick buildings” were contrasted against “healthy buildings“. The chemical contents of building materials were highlighted. Many building material manufacturers were actively working to gain control of the chemical content and to replace criticized additives. The ventilation industry advocated above all more well-functioning ventilation. Others perceived ecological construction, natural materials, and simple techniques as a solution.

Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants. These contaminants may breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting, or insulation. Sometimes insects or bird droppings can be a source of biological contaminants. Physical symptoms related to biological contamination include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, and allergic responses such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion. One indoor bacterium, Legionella, has caused both Legionnaire’s Disease and Pontiac Fever.

Complex Inflammatory Response Syndrome.

Humidifier fever is caused by breathing in water droplets from humidifiers heavily contaminated with microorganisms causing respiratory infections, asthma and extrinsic allergic alveolitis. The disease is noninfectious in nature. The patient may have flu-like symptoms. It is sometimes called Monday Fever. Permanent lung damage does not occur.

The symptoms can be clinically defined and have clearly identifiable causes. The complainants may require prolonged recovery time after leaving the building.

It is important to note that complaints may also result from other cause like a preexisting illness or other allergies, job-related stress or dissatisfaction and psychosocial factors.

2. Biological contaminants

The biological contaminants include pollen, bacteria, viruses, fungus, molds, etc. These contaminants can breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in humidifiers, drain pipes and ducts or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, insulation, carpets and upholstery.

Insect and bird droppings can also be a source of biological contamination. Biological contamination causes fever, chills, cough, chest tightness, muscle aches and allergic reactions. In offices with a high density of occupancy, airborne diseases can spread rapidly from one worker to another. Air-conditioning systems can recirculate pathogens and spread them throughout the building e.g., Legionnaire’s disease due to legionella organisms.

 Exposure to toxic black mold might be a problem. Extrinsic allergic alveolitis has been associated with the presence of fungi and bacteria in the moist air of residential houses and commercial offices. A study in 2017 correlated several inflammatory diseases of the respiration tract with objective evidence of damp-caused damage in homes.

ASHRAE has recognized that polluted urban air, designated within the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s air quality ratings as unacceptable requires the installation of treatment such as filtration for which the HVAC practitioners generally apply carbon-impregnated filters and their likes. Different toxins will aggravate the human body in different ways. Some people are more allergic to mold, while others are highly sensitive to dust. Inadequate ventilation will exaggerate small problems (such as deteriorating fiberglass insulation or cooking fumes) into a much more serious indoor air quality problem.

Health effect caused by indoor mold

Mold problems are one of the most important indoor problems globally and indoor mold problems are commonly related to indoor dampness. The prevalence of indoor mold in warm climates was higher than cold climates by 20%, which represents the large proportion of the population having the exposures to the indoor mold. According to research done by Reginald Quansah, many studies indicate that mold and dampness in the home environment are facts for asthma symptoms. Besides the dampness and mold related to asthma, the qualitative assessment research done by Mark J. Mendell, showed that dampness or mold includes visible moisture, dampness, flooding, visible mold and musty odor. Upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, wheeze also having sufficient evidence of association to these outcomes. Based on the research those outcomes related to exposure to damp indoor environment and indoor environment with molds present. There is also research done by Dan Norback about the lung function decline related to mold and dampness in the house in Europe. According to the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, the effect of great water leakage and damp spots with mold will affect the adult lung function decline in women. Reducing the dampness in all indoor environment will prevent all the respiratory issues caused by dampness and mold in indoor environment.


Regular inspections to indicate for presence of mold or other toxins

Useful tips on how to prevent mold growth in your basement:

  • Clean regularly with a vacuum that has a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter so that mold spores do not get a chance to accumulate.
  • Avoid putting damp items in the basement.
  • Remove clutter from the basement because it can create a suitable environment for mold growth.
  • Repair leaks without delay.
  • Keep your basement dry with exhaust fans.
  • Keep basement humidity between 30 and 50%.
  • Do not install carpet in the basement.
  • Avoid having plants in the basement.
  • Ensure that water flows away from the house and not towards it when it’s raining.
  • Basement DefenderTM that will alert you for changes in your basement or crawl space’s humidity levels, before mold becomes a big issue.
Roy Spencer - President of Basement Defender

Roy is a respected authority in the waterproofing industry, with over 40 years of experience under his belt. His company, Perma-Seal, has earned a reputation as Chicagoland’s premier waterproofing contractor, thanks to Roy’s unwavering commitment to quality, integrity, and customer satisfaction.

His latest innovation, the Basement Defender, is a testament to his dedication to providing homeowners with the best possible protection against basement flooding, representing a major leap forward in the industry’s efforts to prevent water damage and save homeowners from costly repairs.