According to the EPA, most Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors. No wonder people are concerned with the quality of the air we breathe when inside buildings. Pollution levels are often higher indoors than outside. The EPA estimates that the indoor levels of many pollutants are 2- 5 times higher, and on occasion, 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Because of this, the EPA ranks indoor air as one of the top five environmental threats to human health.

What is Sick Building Syndrome? 
The EPA defines Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) as a term used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to the time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.

A survey conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicates that one-third of the 70 million Americans who work indoors are quartered in buildings that are breeding grounds for contamination from molds, bacteria, and volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde.

Experts agree that indoor air quality did diminish after the late 1970’s when buildings were structured to be more air tight and a greater amount of inside air was re-circulated. Even though building engineers have made changes in standards to increase the supply of outside air, IAQ complaints are on the rise.

In 1980 indoor air complaints represented only 8% of the National Institute’s for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) requests for investigation. In 1990 that number was up to 38%. NIOSH last reported that IAQ complaints represent 52% of their investigative workload.

Issues with a building’s indoor air quality helps sell newspapers. It is certainly possible that the amount of press given to these issues in recent years is contributing to the number of complaints building occupants have regarding indoor air.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a topic that is here to stay and will continue to be a major part of any facility manager’s responsibility.

Special attention needs to be given to keeping your building’s heating and ventilation (HVAC) system clean so you not only protect your building’s occupants, but protect yourself from complaints and litigation.