The Secret Ways Your Office is Making You Sick

Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome (SBS) has been a widespread noticeable issue since engineers and builders began limiting ventilation to create more “green” structures. Some studies have linked the shift to prioritize energy consumption to the 1970s. SBS is described as “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” The cause of SBS can be linked to many different causes, but all have negative impacts on the productivity of workers inside the building.

According to the EPA, symptoms of SBS could be:

  • Headache
  • Eye, nose or throat irritation
  • Dry cough
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to odors

These uncomfortable conditions have been proven to lead to reduced productivity by employees. The EPA estimates that poor indoor air quality suggest a 2-4% performance loss for all buildings on average.

While there can be many causes of SBS, the EPA lists biological contaminants as a common culprit. This can include bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses. A 2017 study reported fungi directly releases harmful toxins in the air, demonstrating how mold can make occupants sick. These contaminants may breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting or insulation.

Another cause of SBS could be connected to full air-conditioning systems. 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. The HVAC system can play a role in the indoor air quality of a building. For example, contaminants could be stuck in the duct or duct linings. Up to 90% of the air in an air-conditioned building may be recirculated to conserve energy lack of “fresh” air has been blamed for the symptoms. 

Other causes could be related to formaldehyde (from cavity wall insulation, office furniture, or carpet adhesive), cigarette smoke, excess of airborne particles, excess of carbon dioxide, bacteria in the air from contamination of humidifiers, poor circulation of air in the buildings and lack of negative ions. 

Ozone is a powerful, all-natural way to improve air quality indoors. Ozone disperses thoroughly into the air, flows over surfaces and travels deep into holes, surfaces, fabrics and crevices. During this process, it seeks out and eradicates the organic molecules that form many indoor pollutants, such as mold and mildew.

Whether biological or chemical pollutants, ozone works rapidly by oxidizing them and then reverting back to O2 (oxygen). The third oxygen atom is then deployed to destroy the offending pollutant. The complete life-cycle of ozone is: generation, oxidation, and return to oxygen. This effective process, deodorizes, disinfects, and destroys many of the pathogens and fumes that negatively affect air quality daily. 

Additionally, ozone can provide a solution for the air-conditioning system, which is thought to be a common cause of SBS. Running ozone through the air-conditioning vent system will destroy contaminants that could be stuck in the ducts. 

  • First, treat the individual room that has the worst odor or smoke damage

    • Before turning on your unit, remove all valuables, plants, and/or pets from the room so they do not come into direct contact with ozone

  • Second, you will need to determine the severity of the smell, which will dictate the amount of time needed for cleaning

    • For example, heavy smoke smells will require longer treatment times (4 hours or more), while pet smells could be solved in a shorter amount of time (4 hours or less)

  • Next, place the unit into the severely impacted room and turn the unit on full power while selecting the appropriate time setting on your unit

    • Be sure to leave the room immediately after your unit begins producing ozone

  • Once you have treated each room individually, you can treat the whole house using the AC method

  • To begin this method, determine where the air return vent is on your heating and cooling system

  • Remove the filter and turn the AC fan ON

  • Place your unit in front of or near the return vent and be sure the heating and cooling system’s fan is to the always on position

  • You will then need to turn on your unit for the 4-hour cycle and immediately exit the building

  • It will be safe to return to the building at a minimum of 4.5 hours later, but we recommend returning 5 hours later or longer

    • Keep in mind, the half-life of ozone is 30 minutes

  • If the smell of ozone is still strong after this amount of time has passed, open windows to air out the building

It is important to remember ozone can be harmful at high concentrations. The use of ozone to shock treat a room should be completely only when the room is free of people, pets and plants. 

Ozone has a half-life of 30 minutes, meaning the ozone will dissipate after this amount of time has passed. If running the 4-hour cycle, returning 5 hours later will ensure the ozone has reverted back to oxygen.


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