Here are the causes of SBS – Sick Building Syndrome

Usually, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), indicates those buildings where people spend most of their time, such as offices, schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly, houses. In Architecture, the terms “indoor environment” refer, in fact, to confined living environments and non-industrial workplaces. Sick building syndrome indicates a well-defined symptomatological situation that involves the occupants of mainly new, modern or recently renovated buildings that are equipped with insufficient or unhealthy mechanical ventilation or air conditioning systems.

What is sick building syndrome. The causes and agents of indoor air pollution. The agents and causes of air quality in confined spaces

In the design phase and in the subsequent construction phase of a building, there is a tendency to obtain an air quality that is defined not “ideal”, but only “acceptable”. We have already talked about Passive House, Nearly Zero Energy Buildings, issues that have now become much discussed especially after the latest energy efficiency developments of European legislation. Inside the buildings, the air quality is considered acceptable when it meets both the regulations imposed by the competent bodies and the comfort needs of the majority of occupants of indoor environments. Needless to say, these acceptable conditions are often not met. 

Sick Building Syndrome symptoms

Inevitably, those who work in environments such as offices or those who go to school may complain of malaise (body discomfort) and may present recurrent symptoms such as headache, difficulty concentrating, dry throat, irritation to the nose, throat and eyes, until nausea. Some people cough and sneeze recurrently, others constantly blow their noses. In many cases, this symptomatology is attributable to the thermo-hygrometric conditions of the building and the rooms of the building, and to the degree of indoor air pollution.

Difference between Building Related Illness (BRI) and Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

Sick Building Syndrome is distinguished from more medically serious Building Related Illness by its subjective nature, reversibility, and high prevalence within implicated buildings and across the nonindustrial building stock in North America and Europe. We speak of Building Related Illness when potentially chronic disease or illness whose symptoms can be identified and whose cause can be directly attributed to an airborne building pollutant or a specific source within a building.

Instead, we speak of Sick Building Syndrome,  when building occupants complain of general health problems that disappear or are significantly mitigated when they leave the building in which they reside – for example, buildings that are visited daily for work or education – and that cannot be traced to a specific disease. The actual causes that cause discomfort, if not real illnesses, to the occupants of a sick building can be:

  • the composition and consequent healthiness or unhealthiness of the air; 
  • mold;
  • the condition of the building;
  •  the general lighting conditions;
  •  ergonomics; 
  • the noise.

Air quality in confined spaces is also related to subjective perception generally based on:

  • air temperature;
  • air humidity;
  • degree of mechanical or natural ventilation of the rooms;
  • concentration of pollutants present in the environment inside buildings.

In this sense, it is extremely difficult to define precise chemical, physical and biological characteristics that can guarantee full well-being for all occupants of any indoor environment. Perception varies according to health conditions, age, individual susceptibility, culture, physical activity, body fat, etc.

In addition, although the thermo-hygrometric regulation of the air is quite simple, there are instead technical / economic limitations to the reduction of pollutants, so that under certain pollution thresholds it is not possible to arrive, except in the case of environments that require extreme conditions of sterility and cleanliness, such as operating rooms or some hospital environments.C

Another incidence factor in Sick Building Syndrome is the level of concentration of pollution inside buildings which, when present, is higher than that of the outside air. The date is obvious, because the exposures of each individual to the causes of indoor air pollution are more numerous than the causes of outdoor air pollution. In fact, the amount of time spent by people inside the buildings is greater than that spent outside. A study conducted in 1998 by the Society of Ecology Environmental Prevention (EPA) estimated that the concentrations of indoor pollutants are generally 1 to 5 times higher than those outdoors and that indoor exposure is 10 to 50 times higher than outdoor exposure.

Finally, the combination and action of all the factors present have synergistic effects between the various pollution agents involved that cannot be defined

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