More Info on the Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

Chemical Contaminants From Indoor Sources
Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. Environmental tobacco smoke contributes high levels of VOCs, other toxic compounds, and particulate matter that can be inhaled.
Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects (such as sick building syndrome) at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions, such as sick building syndrome. Combustion products, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, as well as inhalable particles, can come from unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves.
Chemical Contaminants From Outdoor Sources
The outdoor air that enters a building can be a source of indoor air pollution. For example, pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents, and building exhausts (such as bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings. In addition, combustion products can enter a building from a nearby garage.
Biological Contaminants
Types of biological contaminants include:
  • Bacteria
  • Molds
  • Pollen
  • Viruses.
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
  • Allergic responses (such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion).
One indoor bacterium, Legionella, has caused both Legionnaire's disease and Pontiac fever.
These elements may act in combination and may supplement other complaints, such as inadequate temperature, humidity, or lighting. Even after a building investigation, however, the specific causes of the complaints may remain unknown.
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