What is Sick Building Syndrome? Defined by the Medical Dictionary, the medical definition of SICK BUILDING SYNDROME: a set of symptoms (as headache, fatigue, eye irritation, and breathing difficulties) that typically affect workers in modern airtight office buildings, that are believed to be caused by indoor pollutants (as formaldehyde fumes, particulate matter, or microorganisms), and that tend to disappear when affected individuals leave the building.
This phenomena sometimes known as "Tight Building Syndrome" has been investigated over the past several decades. For many, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is quite real. SBS can trigger flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, eye, nose or throat irritation, itchy skin, dry cough, nausea, dizziness, or sensitivity to odors and in some cases vomiting.
These symptoms can appear on their own or in combination with another and may vary greatly on a daily basis. Different people may also experience different symptoms. Two common characteristics among those that suffer from SBS is that (1) the unexplained health problems usually begin to fade away after leaving the "sick" building and (2) the symptoms are experienced by people working in poorly ventilated buildings.
The oil crisis in the 1970's and the related high energy costs has led to tighter building construction. Instead of being able to open windows for fresh air,
ventilation is controlled by the building's mechanical heating and cooling system. When buildings can't breathe, the concentration of indoor pollution increases to dangerous levels.
Modern construction materials, carpet and hard flooring materials, furniture, and even the cleaning products used to maintain the floors and furnishings can give off or "off gas" Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's). When you smell that "new car smell", plugin air fresheners, a new plastic shower curtain, wall paint,
construction adhesive, cleaning products, floor strippers and finishes, etc, you are being exposed to VOC's.
These VOC's (detectable by our sense of smell or often undetected by our ole factory senses) are the harmful vapors or gasses that the building materials,
furnishings and cleaning products off gas. We end up breathing or absorbing the VOC's through our skin. SBS is thought to be in part due to exposure to VOC's in the air.
To summarize: Tighter buildings = reduced fresh air + increased VOC's = more concentration of indoor air pollution = Sick Building Syndrome.
Poor ventilation issues and the concentration of volatile organic compounds are variables which control how "sick" a building is. Ventilation is most often a
function of building design and not cost effective to change. Some VOC's come from adhesives, paints, and building materials which off gas long after the building is completed and cannot be easily reduced. Other VOC's come from sources that can be easily changed, one being cleaning products.
Consider the tons of cleaning products, floor strippers and finishes, the aerosols and fragrances used throughout the building all in the name of a cleaner indoor
environment. Many of these products contribute to high VOC levels and remain at toxic levels for several hours after use.
The cleaning personnel are exposed to the highest concentration of VOC's and the building occupants are greeted by the VOC's each morning disguised as a clean office smell.
The key isn't to eliminate all cleaning chemicals, just the chemicals that emit VOC's. Here is where a green cleaning program can be beneficial. A green cleaning program that utilizes green cleaning products which contain NO VOC's.
Effective carpet cleaning and hard surface cleaning products that won't compromise the indoor air quality of a building. Green cleaning chemicals that won't negatively affect the health of the user (even in a confined area), or the building occupant.
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