We know that people affected with respiratory diseases are mostly from the middle and upper middle class homes who spend about 90% of the time Indoor (home/ school/ office/ public transport etc).
An average Indian spends maximum 2 to 3 hours outdoor – mainly the commutation time or outdoor activities. The balance 21 to 22 hours are spent in the so called “safe”, comfortable and cozy home/ office indoor within Air Conditioned spaces!! We are afraid of 2 to 3 hours of exposure to outdoor pollution, but blissfully ignorant of the indoor Air Quality creating devastation to our body.
Indoor air pollution is arguably one of the most overlooked threats to human health, particularly affecting young children and adults who spend an estimated 90% of their time indoor.
The nasal cavity or the respiratory tract in children is extremely sensitive. The most voluminous substance that goes inside the child is not food or water but ~16000 to 18000 Liters of AIR (equivalent to the volume of a swimming pool). We all know that the AIR we breathe in urban cities are extremely polluted and full of toxins.
Studies released in the past few years demonstrate clearly that poor Indoor Air Quality not only increases symptoms of Asthma and other respiratory diseases among children but can also be responsible for headaches, fatigue, nausea, restlessness etc among adults. Researchers are now going to the extent of associating Indoor Air Quality with lowered or retarded Intelligence among children.
Less ventilated Air Conditioned homes, lack of sunlight cause the air to get trapped, thus the concentration of pollutants increase and they find no space to escape. Our energy efficient mindset leads to decreased ventilation thus increasing proliferation of micro-organisms, odor retention and give off VOC’s resulting in increased incidence of illness.
Out of the total volume of AIR we breathe, 85 to 90% is Indoor Air. When we say Indoor, we mean any living space that are airtight or within four walls, i,e under a ceiling. Just calculate and you will realize that actually, we are spending a substantial amount of time in these spaces. Our current lifestyle and energy efficient mindset combined with poor ventilation and no sunlight leads to accumulation of INVISIBLE pollutants Indoor that enter our Airway (respiratory Tract) thus settling there.
A condition affecting office workers, typically marked by headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, eye irritation and many other respiratory problems, attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in the Air conditioned working environment such as poor ventilation and lack of sunlight. Different individuals in the same building may experience different symptoms. They usually improve or disappear altogether when you leave the building and often return when you re-enter the building.
A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ). Often this condition is temporary, but some buildings have long-term problems. Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems are a result of poor building design or occupant activities.
SBS is associated with certain type buildings that we build now are mostly sealed and allow very little cross ventilation with less or no sunlight in Indoor space. But, people sometimes develop the symptoms while in other buildings that are occupied by lots of people such as Schools, Office, Cinema Theatres etc
The primary reasons for Sick Building Syndrome are
(i) Poor and Inadequate Ventilation
(ii) Chemical Contamination Indoor
(iii) Biological Contaminants
(iv) Outdoor Contaminants – mainly Particulate Matter
Poor and Inadequate Ventilation: In the last Century, most buildings were airy which brought in outside air primarily to dilute the level of CO2 and reduce body odours thus maintaining health and comfort of occupants. In tropical countries like India, the extreme heat and cold conditions brought in Air Conditioner, Heaters thus recycling the same stale and stuffy air thereby trapping all pollutants within the space. Static Electricity generated in AC rooms is another reason for carpets, modern furnishings and soft toys becoming a breeding ground for dust mite, pollen and other harmful gases.
Chemical Contamination Indoor: Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. Cleaning Products and Repellant contributes high levels of VOCs, other toxic compounds, and respirable particulate matter. Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions. Combustion products such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, as well as respirable particles, can come from unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces and gas stoves.
Biological Contaminants: Bacteria, molds, fungi, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants. These contaminants may breed in dark and humid areas or on ceiling tiles, carpeting, or insulation. Sometimes insects or bird droppings can be a source of biological contaminants. Physical symptoms related to biological contamination include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, and allergic responses such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion.
Outdoor Contaminants – mainly Particulate Matter: The outdoor air that enters a building can be a source of indoor air pollution. For example, pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts; construction activity, open drains, factory fumes and building exhausts (e.g., bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings.
Very simple steps to reduce SBS are to make sure you can open the windows to allow you to ventilate your home, keeping the rooms free of clutter and in good decorative order and also potted plants will also help make our home a pleasant environment in which to live.
People with sick building syndrome usually don't have any disease that a doctor can detect, but their suffering is undeniable, says Dr Rajarshi Bhattacharjee, National Head, Times Foundation and an expert on indoor air quality. In some cases, the symptoms are so severe that a person can no longer work at the building in question.
Sick building syndrome has become more common than all building-related diseases combined, but so far, Dr Bhattacharjee says, familiarity hasn't led to understanding. Nobody knows for sure why so many people are getting sick?
Sick Building Syndrome have been linked to another great epidemic of our times - job stress, according to Dr Sitesh Roy, A US Board Certified Allergist-Immunologist and Asthma Specialist practicing in Mumbai. Mould and fungi grows in our furniture thus create havoc to our lungs. Living in urban environment also results in PM2.5 (dust particles which are as small as 1/100th of human hair) entering our homes easily. The paint fumes, perfume, candle, mosquito repellant and cleaning solutions emit harmful VOC’s thus adding toxic gases which are even dangerous than most polluting factories. The worst part is that all these are invisible and lethal that can easily enter our lungs and settle there without any resistance.
Just assume a water pipe where we send polluted water all 24 hours a day, what kind of damage will happen to the pipe? Yes! You guessed it right. The pipe will be clogged and there will be accumulation of pollutants in the pipe surface thus resulting in corrosion or even erosion of the pipe. We inhale 11000L of AIR everyday, so air is the most important substance going into our body from outside. Now let us consider human airway that starts from our nasal cavity and ends at the lungs, is actually an air pipe, common name being Airway or Respiratory Tract. Like all other internal parts of our body, it is also extremely sensitive, specially for newborn children (infants). The AIR we breathe contains several harmful and poisonous chemicals, gases, VOC, pet dander, tiny Particulate Matter (PM1 & PM2.5), infection causing substances that are INVISIBLE and can easily enter our Airway without any
resistance. These micro particles cause damage to the airway muscle similar to how the water pollutant damaged the pipe thus clogging and constricting the airway pipe. In simple terms the airway muscle is thickened (see image).
This condition causes breathlessness, throat infection, cough, allergy etc that are common specially for infants and even adults. The continuous damage and inability to restrict the damage caused by continuous exposure to these pollutants almost all the day and even most parts of the year, can even result in severe Asthma attacks.
"Indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside your house"- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Outdoor air has only Category 1 of air pollutants. But Indoor air has all the 3 Categories of air pollutants.