Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

A House Infected by Black Mold
Image from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Enviromental Energy Technologies Divison (website)

What is SBS?
Since the early seventies, as building codes became more stringent to help with energy costs buildings became near air tight environments. New duct work was installed so that warm or cool air could travel in it. A problem that has risen to he attention of people all around the word is Sick Building Syndrome. This process begins by mold and bacteria settling along the inner walls of ducts. Air blowing through ducts infected with high levels of mold and bacteria will infect those who breathe the contaminated air in. Sick Building Syndrome is easily identified if workers or occupants feel ill in a certain building or room. And when they leave the room, the symptoms dissipates. SBS complaints can come from a particular room or may be widespread throughout the building. SBS can also cause many respiratory illnesses.

How badly are people affected by SBS?
Indoor Air Quality: Otherwise known as the IAQ for short. Some Indoor air topics include asthma, mold, and radon. Asthma is a disease that affects approximately 20 million americans. Over 6.3 million of those are children. Since 1980, the biggest growth in asthma cases has been in children under five. In 200 there were nearly 2 million emergency room visits and nearly half a million hospitalizations due to asthma, at a cost of almost $2 billion, and causing 14 million school days missed each year. (Environmental Protection Agency). American National Standards Institute's Construction Standards Management Board was renewed in the 1970s (Building Code Committee of the Department of Commerce).

Sick Building syndrome can be isolated to one room or be widespread throughout an entire building. Some symptoms of SBS include: Persistant headaches; irritation in eyes, nose, or throat; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; bouts of dizziness or nausea; fevers; fatigue; watering eyes and nose; muscle cramps; joint pain; dry itchy skin; nosebleeds; and heartburn. A unique characteristic of Sick Building Syndrome is that symtoms are only triggered when you are in the infected room or building.

1. Air Filters
2. Air Ducts
3. Hurricane Info
4. Mold Statistics

Air Filters

There are some actions you can take to prevent yourself from getting SBS and ultimately to prevent a "sick" building. One of these actions is properly maintaining your air filters.Change air filters monthly,and HEPA filters (a type of pre-filter) annually. Another important thing to do is to have a full cleaning of your entire air duct system every 2-5 years. this can be done professionally.

There are numerous types of air filters, besides the ones you have already installed. For example, there is a UV light on the market that sterilizes passing air from mold and bacteria. However, these these stationary UV fictuures normally only kill 40% of mold and bacteria spores. The link below compares different air filters' cost and effectivness.

Air Filter Costs & Comparisons

Air Ducts

Leakage in Ducts:
Air can leak through ducts in many ways. One way is through un-insulated or poorly insulated duct walls located in attics. Another way that air can leak through ducts is through holes or open spaces between poorly connected sections of ductwork. The final way is caused by pressure differences from faulty ducts. (Bryant)

Consequences From Poor Ductwork:
The consequences from poor ductwork can be very costly. Poor ductwork can allow expensive cooled or heated air to leak into attics and garage (places where it's unwanted). Return leaks induce outside air into the ducts, this reduces the duct's efficiency and capacity. Also, dust, mold, and other contaminants such as insulation fibers blow into the hone or building and can infect it's occupants. (A Residential Duct Leakage Case Study on "Good Cents" Homes)

Prevention of Mold and Bacteria
If mold and bacteria is found in air ducts, it can be potentially very dangerous. It is important to get rid of it as soon as possible. A solution to contamination is sterilization. An easy and quick way to sterilize a duct is using a Ultraviolet light. An example of an extremely deadly mold is Black mold. This infamous mold is also known as Strachybotrys chartarum and more often as Strachybotrys atra. It has been closely linked to the death of babies from respiratory bleeding, and as a contributing factor to illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis. According to the Center of Disease Control, this mold is responsible for over "100 cases of lung disorders". (Center of Disease Control)

Hurricane Safety


  • After floods or hurricanes occur, buildings
    are more likely to become contaminated with mold
  • Buildings exposed to water (roof leaks, floods,
    gutter leaks, etc.) for over 48 hours will
    almost certainly have mold growth
  • Prolonged exposure to mold or mold con- taminated
    items is detrimental to health
  • Mold is more of a hazard to people who suf- fer from
  • In order to prevent exposure, be sure to
  • 1) Don't expose yourself to places where there is
    known mold contamination
  • 2) Use environmental controls
  • 3) Use personal protective equipment
  • 4) Don't get mold-contaminated dust on skin or clothing
  • Both hurricane Katrina and Rita caused breeches in
    levees in New Orleans leading to massive flooding
  • Many buildings and homes were flooded for weeks straight
  • In 1999, hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina Causing sim-
    ilar flooding
  • There was a reported increase of asthma like symptoms do
    to mold growth
  • Even though mold can be found anywhere, it needs nutrients
    and moisture to grow
  • Different molds have different basic needs to grow
  • Because there is a lack of nutrients and moisture indo-
    ors, mold is limited to places like wood, wall-
    paper, food, upholstery, and HVAC systems
  • The reason mold doesn't grow in more places indoors
    is a lack of moisture
  • Leaks in
    roofs, faulty gutters, and foundation leaks are all
    ways for mold to get exposed to moisture
  • Condensation is also a way for mold to ac- quire moisture
  • Leaks and HVAC units provide conditions susceptible
    for mold growth
  • Mold is usually introduced to your body's system through
  • Fungal spores settle in the upper and lower respiratory tract
  • Most spores get disturbed and blown into a room from a
    HVAC system (air ducts)
  • People can also become exposed by skin contact or ing-
    esting a substance
  • Contact can be from airborne spores or my- celial fragments
  • There is no way to measure the severity of mold exposure
  • You can't determine whether somewhere is safe by taking
    and sample and measuring the mold content in
    that sample
  • Inspection of an area

  • Inspecting an area is very important
  • Inspect any
    leaks, water damage, and mold growth
  • You can have mold contamination without being able to see it
  • Never sample mold or bacteria unless there is a scientific re-
    ason (mold classifications/ concentrations)
  • Helpful Tools

  • Moisture meter - Measures the amount of moisture in build-
    ing materials
  • Temperature/Humidity meter - Available for less than fifty
    dollars, measure the temperature and humidity of a
    room or building
  • Borescope - Handheld, capable of detecting unseen mold in areas
    like wall, ceilings, crawl spaces, etc.
  • Cleaning

  • Make sure to stop all water from getting into the house
  • Inspect the amount of damage along with the amount of mold
  • Limit moisture sources to as little as possible
  • Dry and clean as many wet things as possible
  • Get rid of things that can not be decontaminated
  • If there is little damage, one person can do all of these listed
  • For extensive damage, it takes multiple people, many of them
    trained professionals
  • Returning Home After a Flood

  • Dry the building as quickly as possible (de-humidifiers speed
    this process)
  • Remove items that have been wet for over 48 hours and cannot
    be dried
  • All wet items need to be cleaned with detergent and water, this
    will prevent mold growth
  • Removing Mold From a Building

  • Remove all damaged items from the house until insurance cl-
    aims are processed
  • Mold damage that covers less than 10 square feet can be cleaning
    using detergent and water
  • Flood water can be cleaned with 1 cup chlorine bleach per 1
    gallon of water
  • Two sites that can help you locate companies who specialize in
    water damage restoration are:
    -Association of Specialist in Cleaning and Restoration
    -Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification
  • Have your HVAC system cleaned profes- sionally and change
    air filters
  • Only use water that is disinfected when cleaning
  • Saving Household Items

  • Glass, most metal, and hard plastic items are usually salvageable
  • Items should be washed by hand
  • If dishwater is used, disinfect and run it hot, never cold and don't
    use the energy saving setting
  • Canned food that is open, damaged, or have bulges need to be
    disposed of immediately
  • Cans that are do not list the features above need to have labels
    removed, washed, and then washed again in
    a solution of 1 cup of beach in 5 gallons of
    clean water
  • Protective Equipment

  • Skin and Eyes :
    - Gloves that come up to mid forearm and
    material should be based on the chemi-
    cals you're working with
    - Eyes can be protected with a full face shield or fitted goggles
  • Protective Clothing :
    - dispose of clothing after it is exposed
    - aprons should be worn over clothes
  • Respiratory :
    - Respirators should be used to prevent inhalation of mold
    - Surgical masks can provide protection from large particles
    such as dust, however do not protect
    from mold spores

Mold Statistics