Sick Building Syndrome
By T. Nadeau RN

What is “sick building syndrome?” according to the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air they describe the sick building as follows “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. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building, In contrast, the term “building related illness” is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building continants.”(

Non specific illnesses may produce a wide range of symptoms: irritation of skin and mucous membranes of mouth, nose and throat, headache, fatigue, dry cough and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms may be intensified in the following: children, women, the volume of ventiliation in the building,smoking and type of work being done in the building ie photocopying or renovations.

In order to determine whether or not the building is truly sick there must be an investigation with many individuals. The following may be used as “red flags” when pinpointing the problem: the symptoms must be present while in the building but must leave when not in the building. The severity of the symptoms may vary depending on the individual.

The building may possess any of the following: mechanical ventilation not maintained, high humidity and fresh air ventilation rates of less than 10 litres/second/person. A few other examples are the use of solvents,adhesives and cleaning agents, carbon monoxide, dust and fibres like asbestos, bacteria and molds growing in stagnant water and in wet carpets, drywall and insulation as well as exhaust from poorly located or not functioning airvents.

In order to diagnose the problem, hiring an environmental expert and finding a physician that specializes in sick building syndrome may be of help. In this scenerio, Johnny Worthington was being exposed to fumes from the floors being refinished, possibly poor ventilation from renovations to the school and industrial cleaning products at home. According to the data received , the school was built prior to the 1950’s, the heating and ventilation system was poorly maintained and not suitable for the present design, renovations over the years had altered the original design as well as current renovations were being done near Johnny’s classroom. Since many of the children in the classroom were being affected by fatigue, runny noses and coughing there may be a possibility of sick building syndrome.


Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was used for insulation and as a fire retardant prior to the 1970’s. Asbestos is a banned product, when inhaled it can cause increased risk of lung cancer and scarring of the lungs especially in those that smoke. Since asbestos particles as so small, they become airborne when disturbed making it very difficult to remove. Symptoms of asbestos do not usually show up for many years and are not a cause of sick building syndrome because it it a long term problem.

United States Envirommental Protection Agency. (n.d). Sick Building Syndrome.Retrieved October 12, 2004 from

Doctor Fungus (2004). Sick Building Syndrome.Retrieved October 13, 2004 from

Environmental Health Center (2000). Asbestos. Retrieved October 13, 2004 from

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