The Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

(Source: Pixabay)

The term ‘sick building syndrome’ took-off in the last 15-20 years, so it’s a fairly recent idea.

However, the term doesn’t refer to the building in of itself, but the people inside. Basically, a sign of a ‘sick building’ is that its occupants are experiencing health issues, such as frequent coughs, headaches, itchy skin, watery eyes, and other problems.

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

In most cases, the ‘syndrome’ or problem originates from the building’s indoor air quality (IAQ) — i.e., the air is serving as a pathway to causing those health issues.

Those IAQ issues could result from one or a combination of factors. This could be elevated mold spore concentration, lead paint, settled lead dust, and asbestos matter in the air.

It could also be the build-up mold in the building’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, & air conditioning) system. So if there’s mold growth in the HVAC ductwork, then the ductwork will deliver spores to every area of the building connected to the ductwork.

Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome

The symptoms of sick building syndrome can manifest in people and in the building.


In terms of people, the symptoms are health issues, especially respiratory issues, coughing, and skin problems. The challenge with these symptoms is that people often mistake those issues for some other allergies or issues. As a result, you might miss the actual causes of the symptoms.

The second issue is that people experience those symptoms differently. Those reactions usually range from mild to severe. Moreover, some groups — including infants, children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems — are more vulnerable to those IAQ issues.

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In terms of buildings, you are looking for the root causes behind sick building syndrome (i.e., the issues causing health problems to your tenants).

This would include looking for mold outbreaks, asbestos, lead paint, and other substances that are the originating causes of poor IAQ.

You need professional inspection services to identify these issues. For example, asbestos is a friable material, which means it erodes into easily inhalable dust that will seriously damage lungs and other tissue. You need experts to safely examine an area with exposed asbestos — or you will be at risk of spreading the problem to other parts of your building.

Your first step when dealing with hazardous substances should be to speak to a professional.

What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?

When it comes to asbestos and lead paint, it’s an issue of the building’s original designers using those materials. However, the situation isn’t as simple when it comes to mold.

Yes, mold growth results in a musty smell and damage to your tiles and drywall, but the mold is not the root cause of the problem. In most cases, mold outbreaks occur as a result of increased moisture or humidity levels coupled with a sharp concentration of mold spores indoors. You can get these situations due to water leaks, floods, and lack of maintenance in moist/humid areas.

primary cause of sick building syndrome(Source: Environmental Advisory Council)

To get rid of the mold and prevent it from returning, you must identify the root cause for the mold (e.g., a water leak) and fix that as part of your remediation work. In other cases, you might need to change or fix actual building systems, such as HVAC.

Don’t Let Asbestos, Lead or Mold Harm Your

Tenants or Your Occupancy Rate

Next Steps

If you suspect sick building syndrome, then your next step should be to first identify the causes and second, remediate it. You should always start by speaking to a professional.

First, when it comes to assessing your IAQ, speak to an IAQ testing firm. They will assess your building’s air to see if it has elevated spore level counts and/or other harmful substances.

Second, once you have the IAQ report, you should speak to a professional remediation services company to inspect your building. The goal isn’t limited to finding the source of poor IAQ, but the root causes as well. So returning the mold example above, the inspectors will seek-out the mold growth in your building as well as identify the causes resulting in that mold (e.g., a water leak).

Third, once the inspection is complete, you should proceed with a remediation service that not only removes the problem (e.g., mold, asbestos, etc), but helps you quickly repair the area.

As you can see, there’s no way to deal with sick building syndrome without the support outside commercial mold remediation experts. Just as you would rely on a physician to help you solve some sickness, you should speak to the experts on mold, asbestos and lead to remove those issues.

Work with FERRO Environmental today to restore your building’s appeal by removing asbestos, mold, and/or lead abatement. Contact us today!