It turns out that the good old phrase “go get some fresh air” may have more relevance today than ever before.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor environments have two to five times more pollutants than outdoor environments.
In extreme cases, indoor pollutants have been recorded at levels 100 times higher. Now put these statistics together with the fact that we’re spending more time than ever indoors–90 percent of our time to be exact.
What this all boils down to is pretty obvious: the quality of our indoor environments have a direct and marked impact on our health.
When concern over energy efficiency rose in the 1970s, buildings were sealed up and ventilation was installed to control air flow in and out of structures. Unfortunately, ventilation systems are still not always able to provide enough air flow and filtration to control pollutants in indoor air.
When we breath in poorly filtered air, pollutants irritate our sinuses and respiratory systems, and aggravate preexisting conditions, like allergies and asthma. Factor in the presence of other environmental hazards, like mold or asbestos, in some buildings and you could be at risk for some pretty scary health effects.
Additional problems can arise when a building is being used or maintained in a way that it was not originally designed for, while other buildings suffer from poor design, occupant overload, or occupant activities. Conscious and pragmatic decisions during the design, construction and renovation process can greatly improve indoor air quality and reduce the chance that environmental risks will develop.
How do you know if occupant symptoms are building-related?
Typically, occupant symptoms related to a building’s poor health or indoor air quality can be designated as one of two conditions: Building-Related Illness (BRI) or Sick Building Syndrome (SDS). While these terms are often used interchangeably by mistake, BRI and SDS have separate causes and symptoms that need to be addressed accordingly.
Building Related Illness (BRI)
BRI can be diagnosed as one (or more) specific diseases for which the cause can be identified (namely, exposure to indoor air pollutants). The symptoms associated with BRI have been clinically defined and specific treatment can be prescribed for the illness. People suffering from BRI might suffer from coughing, chest tightness, fevers, chills and muscle aches that do not improve for a prolonged period after leaving the suspected building environment.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
In contrast, the cause of symptoms from SBS cannot be identified. While there is not a medically-recognized set of symptoms associated with SBS, building occupants suffering from SBS typically report severe symptoms that include: eye, nose, or throat irritation; itchy or irritated skin; dry cough; headaches; dizziness and nausea; trouble concentrating and fatigue.
Unlike BRI, occupants suffering from SBS usually experience relief from their symptoms soon after leaving the facility, sometimes even within moments. Oftentimes, reporting of these symptoms by 25 percent or more of building occupants, combined with quick dissipation of symptoms after leaving the building may indicate SBS is the culprit. However, because the cause of the symptoms is unknown, SBS is usually identified only after other diseases and causes have been ruled out.
How can AMI Environmental Help Protect Building Occupants?