SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
AND ITS CAUSES. FUNGUS, MOLD AND BACTERIA,
pollutants causing "Sick Building Syndrome",
SBS, is not only hazardous to your health
but also hazardous to the economic life
of your business or building. Loss of building
materials, furnishings, drops in productivity,
increased heath care costs, increased worker
absence, loss of tenants, fear and rumors
among prospective new tenants and Realtors
and increased liability are some of the
problems associated with SBS. Testing, investigations,
cleanups can be costly if a problem is left
alone to grow.
Indoor air pollution problems
were magnified when the energy efficiency
standards were changed dramatically in the
early 1970's. Circulation of air in an office
building was reduced by 80%. Poor circulation
literally left the door wide open to the
many pollutants, bacteria, mold and mildew
that can develop and contaminate a building
air circulation system. It is no wonder
that many of the occupants in office buildings
develop symptoms such as headaches, dizziness,
burning eyes, sore throat, just to name
a few. Over time the severity steadily gets
worse as exposure is prolonged.
Not only employees and
tenants suffer, but the buildings themselves
suffer as well. Deterioration and structural
degradation are common effects. The building
is not going to crumble before your own
eyes but occupational safety issues and
values of buildings can deteriorate within
a very short time period.
Indoor pollutants can consist
of particulates, gases or biologicals. The
diversity of each is great and some forms
of each may be present at some levels in
healthy buildings. Various insects, mites,
ticks, protozoans, bacteria and fungi are
what make up the biological category. Biologicals
interact so dramatically, directly, and
destructively with buildings, and its inhabitants
that they have earned the to be called the
most potent of all pollutants. Even more
significant is the fact that the biologicals
can be tied to all of the human responses
that we associate with SBS. Besides the
bacterial, fungal (mold, mildew and yeast),
and viral disease causing organisms, there
are a number of these organisms that cause
allergic responses in sensitive individuals.
Legionella bacteria, lung staphylococcus
and pseudomonas are all part of biologicals
found in buildings.
By simply looking at your
building, you will see areas where pollutants
originate, enter, move around, and then
exit. HVAC system, windows doors, venting
problems, elevator shafts, and even people
movements are pathways for pollutants. Areas
where moisture is noticeable are also good
indicators of possible pollutant sources.
Condensation of pipes, windows, doors, faucets,
and even over watered plants are great places
for mold to grow. Leaks from roof, or within
wall cavities with residual moisture is
ideal location for molds to grow. The wall
or ceiling cavity will function as thermos
in a sense because it will take very long
for a closed space to dry out. Mold can
therefore develop and grow over extended
time periods and suddenly appear in many
Microbes are part of our
everyday life, but in certain conditions
can multiply from one organism to more than
one billion in just 18 hours. Most people
think, mistakenly, that since that cannot
see the organisms, they offer no real threat
to us humans. In reality these microscopic
beasts, among other factors, are being implicated
as primary and contributory factors leading
to an array of health concerns in the work
place. The broad spectrum of microbes are
particularly potent because they can cause
a full breath of discomfort, irritation,
allergies, sensitization, toxic reaction
The various fungi that
occasionally receive "bad press"
are generally those that are known to produce
chemicals referred to as mycotoxins or aflatoxins.
There chemicals are known to cause headaches,
bleeding of the lungs, and cancer in agricultural
workers, babies, or sick individuals that
may be more susceptible than young, healthy
people. Exposure routes, doses, pathogenicity
and susceptibility of individuals are not
fully understood but when these organisms
are present they should be considered a
serious concern and actions should be implemented.
Stachybotrys chartarum, Aspergillus flavus,
Aspergillus versicolor and a few others
are prominent in this group of fungi. Algae,
the most understudied of all microbial pollutants,
can cause staining and are known to have
proteins that stimulate allergic response
in sensitive individuals.
Pollutant control starts
with the identification,
potential sources, and their pathways to
unsuspecting occupants. Following these
three steps, mitigation
and prevention strategies can be defined
and implemented. Pollutants are everywhere
and the distinction between tolerable and
intolerable levels is very important. Absolute
control is not a practical goal. Due to
this fact, the ALARA principal (As Low As
Reasonably Achievable) is a commonly used
and accepted guideline.
Aureobasidium are common in both outdoor
and indoor air. It is extremely common on
bathroom walls, shower curtains, etc., and
causes mildews. It has also been isolated
in flooded areas of buildings, as well as
from soils, plants and other substrates.
Aureobasidium has been associated with hypersensitivity
pneumonitis in some individuals.
Bacteria are known to cause diseases either
as pathogens or as opportunistic pathogens.
The pathogenicity (ability to cause a disease)
is determine by both the bacteria and the
host defense responses. the types of bacteria
present are rarely identified in sample
because of the cost of the analysis. The
presence of bacteria in the air should not
cause alarm since they are common in air
and usually pose no problem to individuals
with functioning immune systems.
Cladosporium are composed of over 500 species
and are very commonly found in outdoor,
as well as indoor air. It has been isolated
from fuels, wood, plant tissues, face cream,
air, soil, foods, textile, etc. these organism
are found everywhere and pose little problems
except in every high concentration.
Penicillium is a very large group of fungi
and is valued as producers of antibiotics.
It is commonly found in the soil, in the
air and on living vegetation, seeds, grains,
and animals, as well as on wet insulation.
Penicillium has been associated with hypersensitivity
pneumonitis in some individuals when present
in high concentrations.
This is the most common hazardous mold that
will cause allergenic reactions, and causes
hard to detect health problems. Office occupants
are many times unable to continue working
in an arera infected with Sachybotrys and
home occupants are forced to seek medical
attention or move out. Even small amounts
of these mold spores can affect most people.
The mold can develop from a leak in walls
or ceilings when water is allowed to remain
for many hours or days.
Rhodotorula is a commonly isolated yeast.
It is frequently isolated from humidifiers
and soil. Rhodotorula may be allergenic
to susceptible individuals when present
in sufficient concentrations.
Sterile fungi are common to both outdoor
and indoor air. These fungi produce vegetative
growth but yield no spores for identification.
their presence will increase CFU/L and since
they are derived from ascospores or basidiospore,
the spores of which are likely to be allergenic,
these fungi should be considered allergenic.
Various yeasts are commonly identified on
air samples. Yeasts is not known to be allergenic,
but they may cause problems if a person
has had previous exposure and developed
hypersensitivities. Yeasts may be allergenic
to susceptible individuals when present
in sufficient concentrations.
For additional information
on mold abatement or air quality testing,
please contact A.Q.
Management & Control.