Remedial Measures for Sick Buildings

A workshop at the Healthy Buildings ''88 Conference sponsored by the Karlinska Institute in Sweden concentrated on specific case studies in which successful remedial measures reduced "sick building" complaints. The following extract may give readers some idea of the kinds of things that can cause building illness symptoms, and the kinds of actions that can alleviate them.

One of the prerequisites for a healthy building is a low prevalence of building related symptoms of the "sick building syndrome" type. These include mucous membrane irritation, headache, skin irritation and/or general symptoms. When a high prevalence of symptoms is found, psychosocial factors may also be involved, and in general building related illness must be considered as multifactorial. There is no clear and sharp distinction between "healthy" and "sick" in reference to buildings, although high symptom prevalance is associated with "sick building syndrome".

None of the cases below relate to new building materials. They are primarily related to design and maintenance of ventilation systems, maintenance of buildings (cleaning of carpets, etc.) and to activities taking place in the buildings. The probability of problems relating to these factors seems to be greater than that due to material offgassing since the time within which serious offgassing takes place normally lasts less than half a year.

Case 1:

In a teaching laboratory and adjacent offices on a technical university, some employees were diagnosed to have increased body temperature, extreme fatigue, and decreased lung function. Precipitating antibodies were also found in their blood. Carpets were removed and cleaned, and subsequent control measurement of the employees indicated that the situation had improved.

Case 2:

Typical sick building symptoms were observed in a hospital. One hundred and eighty persons were kept out of the building while 24 air handling systems were removed and new ones installed. Microbiological contamination of the ventilation systems was blamed for the outbreak, and the result of the remediation was considered successful.

Case 3:

Two children suffered from mould and food allergy in a private home. Symptoms disappeared when the house was cleaned totally to reduce the exposure from mould spores.

Case 4:

Respiratory and skin irritation developed in an office where layout work was done. Wax and developer were suspected as the sources of exposure. Upon investigation it was determined that due to high air recirculation, fresh air ventilation was too low. Local exhaust ventilation was established and the problems disappeared.

Case 5:

High prevalence of headache occurred in a school. High temperature and dust were suspected. The temperature control was improved, and the prevalence of headache decreased.

Case 6:

Symptoms were reported in a school and it was hypothesized that pollution from a nearby factory was the problem, since metal dust was detected on window sills. Upon further investigation, however, it was determined that exhaust from the heating plant chimney of the school itself was short circuiting into the ventilation air intake.

  Record #30, revised 1/3/2001


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