Sick Building Syndrome

When architects and corporations with management that has a bigger ego than skills want to design a commercial building, you know that the well-being of the occupants will be the least important factor on their minds.

Sick Building Syndrome 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. A 1984 World Health Organization (WHO) report suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be subject of complaints related to poor indoor air quality[1].
That was the reason why office workers were often encouraged to bring green plants to their work space, because these plants were said to enhance air quality.

Building occupants complain of symptoms such as sensory irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, neurotoxic or general health problems, skin irritation, nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions, various unrelated infectious diseases and odor and taste sensations[2].

Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Other causes have been attributed to contaminants produced by outgassing of some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), molds, improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (byproduct of some office machinery, like photocopiers), light industrial chemicals used within or lack of adequate fresh-air intake and/or air filtration.

But when serious studies were undertaken, it was soon discovered that the measured psycho-social circumstances appeared more influential than the tested environmental factors[3].

Translation: It's mostly in the mind.

[1] United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Sick Building Syndrome – 1984
[2] Sundell et al: Association between type of ventilation and airflow rates in office buildings and the risk of SBS-symptoms among occupants in Environmental International – 1994
[3] Marmot et al: Building health: an epidemiological study of "sick building syndrome" in the Whitehall II study in Occupational and Environmental Medicine - 2006

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