Air is probably the most vital element for human life. Indeed, we can live 30 days without eating, 3 days without drinking, but only 3 minutes without breathing.
Moreover, as we are spending more than 90% of our time in indoor environments, some of which can be up to 10 times (or more) polluted than outdoor air, naturally, Indoor Air Quality (or IAQ) has significant impacts on our health, wellbeing, and productivity.
Full of chemical and biological pollutants, indoor air can attack our brains and nervous system to cause serious diseases. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 7 million people die every year because of air pollution-related issues. Today, we recognize there exists a clear correlation between the Covid-19 pandemic and air pollution which has accelerated our consciousness and made us realize that IAQ matters more than we thought.
Clean Indoor Air Quality guarantees a safer workplace
Ensuring good indoor air quality has become more crucially relevant nowadays as we overwhelmingly spend most of our time indoors. This is compounded by the fact that energy efficiency makes our buildings more airtight.
Moreover, we do not always consider Indoor Air Quality while designing our buildings and choosing our materials. This is why the presence of airborne pollutants has one of the most significant impacts on indoor air comfort. In a nutshell, the fact that contemporary buildings are more hermetically sealed and the prevalence of indoor pollutants are the main factors behind the growing issue of sick building syndrome.
Sick Building Syndrome: When indoors makes you sick
"The Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is used to describe a situation in which the occupants of a building experience acute health- or comfort-related effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in the building."
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, poor indoor air quality can be found in about 30% of new and remodeled buildings. The causes are so varied that it's difficult to pinpoint a single one.
But the leading cause of this syndrome is all about the indoor air quality.
SBS is often present in buildings with inadequate ventilation systems. This can cause the accumulation of dust or smoke particles, which are harmful if inhaled. Buildings with SBS often promote the growth of moulds or fungi, which release spores and can induce allergic reactions. SBS is also characterized by high concentrations of harmful gases such as formaldehyde (wood furniture, floors), benzene (adhesives, fuels) or chemicals released into the air from cleaning products (e.g. trichloroethylene, acetone), or from poorly maintained heating systems (e.g. carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide) amongst many others. The ambient temperature and relative humidity levels are also known to play a role in determining the ‘health’ of a building, as well as the comfort of its occupants.
The level of stress, poor lighting in a room, or noise can also cause sicknesses.
The symptoms of SBS are likewise varied and can go from irritation, runny nose, headaches, dry and itchy skin rashes to fever, breathing difficulties, forgetfulness, nausea, allergy-like symptoms, or problems concentrating.
Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs) may have short- and long-term adverse health effects
Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs) are often present in materials from everyday activities such as paints, glues, varnishes, sealants, cleaners, disinfectants, or furniture. Formaldehyde, Benzene, or Toluene.
VOCs include various chemicals that can cause nose, eye, and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and skin problems.
Particle Matters (PM)
According to the EPA, the size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems.
Fine particles (PM2.5) pose the most significant health risk. These fine particles can get deep into the lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream. Coarse particles (PM10-2.5) are of less concern, although they can irritate a person's eyes, nose, and throat.
How to avoid Sick Building Syndrome?
We primarily treat Sick Building Syndrome by alleviating symptoms while reducing the exposure to the causes. Before cleaning indoor environments and guaranteeing safety to the building's occupants, the first step is to analyze and detect the presence of these pollutants with the use of a precise indoor air quality monitoring system. The IAQ monitoring will measure the levels of PM, CO2, and TVOCs in the air. Relative humidity, air pressure, and temperature will also define the quality of indoor spaces.
The company can also take some other steps: use cleaning products with low fumes and no fragrances, vacuum regularly to remove dust, change lights as needed, consider investing in LED or blue lights for less energy output, change out air filters every couple of months or verify the ventilation system with an HVAC expert.
- Saint Gobain - Are you sure you are breathing air?
- Work in Mind - Survey reveals indoor air quality is affecting our productivity and wellbeing in the workplace
- Environmental Protection Agency - Report on the Environment / Indoor Air Quality
- Health Link BC - Indoor Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Healthline - Sick Building Syndrome
- NCBI - The Sick Buiding Syndrome