Sick Building Syndrome 

Sick Building Syndrome is a collection of symptoms (syndrome) that a building’s occupants can experience when they spend time in that building, but without any obvious or specific illness or cause. 

The symptoms can be either localized in a particular are or they can be widespread throughout the entire building. 

It appears more often that SBS is a temporary condition in most buildings, however some buildings appear to have long-term ongoing problems. 

The general indicators of SBS include:  

  1. Building occupants complaining of a range symptoms including headaches; eye, nose, or throat irritations; dry coughs; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and/or nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and/or odours. 
  2. The cause of the symptoms is not obvious. 
  3. Most of the complainants disappear soon after people leave the building. 

Contributing factors

  • a building being used or maintained in a way that is different to its original design or operating procedure
  • Poor indoor air quality in known to aggravate SBS 
  • Poor design of the building or ventilation system
  • Poor maintenance
  • Occupant activities
  • outgassing of some types of building materials, 
  • volatile organic compounds (VOC)
  • moisture damage and or mould growth
  • improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (a by-product of office machinery), 
  • light industrial chemicals being used indoors

Confounding factors

It is important to note that symptoms can also result from illness contracted outside the building and psychosocial factors such as job related stress. 

There can be lingering effects from exposure to neurotoxins, which may not clear up when the occupant leaves the building. In some cases, particularly in sensitive individuals, there can be long-term health effects from neurotoxicity.

Latest Developments in SBS

New terms for SBS include Multi-system Exposure Related Illness – (MERI) and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome due to Water Damaged Buildings (CIRS-WDB)


For More Information: 

USEPA: Indoor Air Facts No. 4 (revised) Sick Building Syndrome


The National Safety Council: Sick Building Syndrome


South Australian Department for Administrative & Information Services: GS 41 SICK BUILDING SYNDROME