sick building syndrome

Sick Building Syndrome, ISO 21542 & Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

2012-05-31:  The International Standard, ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, was published back in December 2011.  A few years before that, however, a decision was taken to link this Standard directly to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) … specifically referencing Preamble Paragraph (g) and Articles 9, 10 and 11 in its Introduction.  Reading the document now, this linkage looks and feels very naturally like an umbilical cord !

ISO 21542 has significantly widened the meaning of the concept ‘Accessibility-for-All’ … a normal evolutionary process.  I wonder, though, how many people would ever have considered Good Indoor Air Quality to be on the ‘Accessibility’ Menu ??

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Much lower rates of direct fresh air ventilation … and a dramatic reduction in accidental or unintended air seepage from, or into, buildings (depending on local climate conditions) … all driven by a pressing need to conserve energy and to impose greater energy efficiencies on the energy which is actually consumed … are, once again, one of the main causes of serious problems for ALL building users …

Building Related Ill-Health:  Any adverse impact on the health of building users – while living, working, generally occupying or visiting a specific building – caused by the planning, design, construction, management, operation or maintenance of that building.

I say “once again”, because we have been here before in Europe … after the oil crises of the 1970’s.

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Anyway … I thought that it would be useful to present a relevant extract from ISO 21542

B.8 – INDOOR AIR QUALITY (IAQ)

Poor indoor air quality, an important factor in relation to Building Related Ill-Health (also known as ‘sick building syndrome’), can cause serious health impairments and severely restrict a person’s participation in everyday activities, e.g. work.

Symptoms and signs may include:

  • irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;
  • respiratory infections and cough ;
  • voice hoarseness and wheezing ;
  • asthma ;
  • dry mucous membrane and skin ;
  • erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;
  • lethargy ;
  • mental fatigue and poor concentration ;
  • headache ;
  • stress ;
  • hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. allergies ;
  • nausea and dizziness ;
  • cancers.

These symptoms and signs are present in the population at large, but are distinguished by being more prevalent in some building users, as a group, when compared with others.  The symptoms and signs may disappear, or may be reduced in intensity, when an affected person leaves the building.  It is not necessary that everyone in a building should be affected before building related ill-health is suspected.

ISO 16814: ‘Building Environment Design – Indoor Air Quality – Methods of Expressing the Quality of Indoor Air for Human Occupancy’ covers methods of expressing indoor air quality (IAQ) and incorporating the goal of achieving good IAQ into the building design process.  It also covers ventilation effectiveness, harmful emissions from building materials, air cleaning devices, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

The indoor pollutants considered in ISO 16814 include human bio-effluents, which have often been the principal consideration in air quality and ventilation design, but also the groups and sources of pollutants which can reasonably be anticipated to occur in the building during its long life cycle.

These pollutants, depending on the sources present, may include:

  • volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and other organics, such as formaldehyde ;
  • environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) ;
  • natural radon, consisting of a number of different isotopes, is an invisible radioactive gas, and is found in the soils under buildings, water supplies to buildings and in the air ;
  • other inorganic gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO), the oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and low-level ozone (smog) which is formed when NOx and VOC’s react in the presence of sunlight ;
  • viable particles, including viruses, bacteria and fungal spores ;
  • non-viable biological pollutants, such as particles of mites or fungi and their metabolic products ;
  • non-viable particles, such as dusts and fibres.

The following Two Performance Indicators of Good Indoor Air Quality, developed with the aim of protecting human health, are recommended:

  1. Radon Activity (incl. Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD)  in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10-40 Bq/m3, but should at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3
  2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)  concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300-500 parts per million (ppm) – and should at no time exceed 800 ppm.

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Carbon Monoxide (CO) Protection in Building Habitable Spaces

2011-01-13:  Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless and toxic gas.  Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home.  At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild harmful effects which are often mistaken for the flu (influenza).  These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.  The effects of CO Exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.  Source: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USA.

Recent tragic deaths from CO Poisoning have occurred in Ireland … not only in the home, but also in a hotel.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide (CO) … unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke.  Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air.  Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking.  Car, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.  Source: EPA, USA.

 

If there is a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance in any habitable space, in any building … and if you have not done so already … you must do something NOW to check that you are protected effectively from CO Poisoning.  Shift your ass !

In order to improve energy conservation and efficiency in buildings … direct, natural ventilation from the exterior is still being actively discouraged … and buildings are becoming more tightly sealed, during construction or major refurbishment, to prevent unintended air seepage.  Generally, this has been causing a serious increase in Building Related Ill-Health (also known as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’) … much of which is still going un-reported.

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BRIEF CHECKLIST – IMMEDIATE ATTENTION

1.  Check that there is sufficient, clear, direct natural ventilation in any habitable space which contains a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance.  Next … Check that the terminal unit / outlet of the flue coming from that appliance is not blocked.  Then … Check the route of any flue from the appliance.  If, for example, a flue passes through another habitable space … that space must also be properly ventilated.

2.  Check that all fuel burning / heat-producing appliances are ‘fit for their intended use’ (this must be shown !), are working properly … and that they are regularly serviced by people who are competent to do so.  Paperwork is not a reliable indicator of competence !   Remember the problems with FÁS !?!

3.  Do not confuse Carbon Monoxide Detectors with Smoke Detectors !   Only install a dedicated Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector for the task of detecting Carbon Monoxide.  And … that Detector must be shown to be ‘fit for its intended use’.  Read the writing on the outside of the box carefully … and then read all of the instructions inside the box !

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With regard to the issue of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning in Ireland … Statistics Gathering is not reliable.  National Legislation concerning the installation of Carbon Monoxide Detectors in buildings should have been introduced many years ago … but this has not yet happened.  Furthermore … don’t hold your breath waiting for this much-needed legislation.  Based on past performance, technical and administrative officials in our relevant authority having jurisdiction, i.e. the Department of Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG), will prefer to wait before acting until similar legislation is introduced in Britain (England & Wales).

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I will just describe what I have done in my own house … in the kitchen …

[Smoke Detectors are separately linked into a monitored security and fire warning system.]

In every room where a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance is located … a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector is installed.  In the kitchen, for example, the Detector is fixed on the wall … at about head height, when sitting down at a table (appropriate for the normal pattern of use there) … and at a distance of approximately 2 metres from the natural gas kitchen range.  Control of direct, natural ventilation to the appliance is active … meaning, it always receives attention.  The usual kitchen clutter, e.g. clothes ‘waiting’ for ironing, etc., is never allowed to cover or block the Detector.  Everybody in the house understands the purpose of this product.

Colour photograph showing a battery-operated Ei Electronics Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector, Model Ei206D, fixed (tamper proof) to the kitchen wall. Two of the hanging decorative plates are from France and Turkey. As for the third plate ... does anyone remember the Willow Pattern ? Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2011-01-12. Click to enlarge.
Colour photograph showing a battery-operated Ei Electronics Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector, Model Ei206D, fixed (tamper proof) to the kitchen wall. Two of the hanging decorative plates are from France and Turkey. As for the third plate ... does anyone remember the Willow Pattern ? Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2011-01-12. Click to enlarge.

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About the performance of the Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector in the event of a ‘real’ CO Leakage … I am comfortably assured, as I have known the EI Company in Shannon since the mid-1980’s.  At that time, I was the first architect in Ireland to install smoke detectors in any local authority housing scheme … and EI gave great technical back up and support, for which I am still very grateful.  I might add that those same smoke detectors were installed against the wishes of the local fire department.  A report on the whole test installation process was later presented, by Dr. M. Byrne, Engineering Manager of EI, to an International Fire Conference in Dublin.

The particular Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector shown in the photograph above is a battery-operated Model Ei206D.  There are no heavy, smoke sealed fire-resisting doorsets in the house … so the sound level of the distinct alarm / warning signal [85 dB(A) minimum at 3 metres] is more than adequate.  A few years ago, this was an expensive item to buy !   Now, however, CO Detectors are widely available … and at a more reasonable price.

Very Importantly … Ei Electronics have also developed a range of products – Solutions for All – which are suitable for use by People with Activity Limitationshttp://www.eielectronics.com/ei-electronics/special-needs

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Harmful Health Effects Associated with Carbon Monoxide (CO) Inhalation … at low concentrations: fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease.  At higher concentrations: impaired vision and co-ordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea.  Can cause flu-like symptoms which clear up after leaving home.  Fatal at very high concentrations.  Acute effects are due to the formation of Carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake.  At moderate concentrations: angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result.  At higher concentrations: CO Exposure can be fatal.  Source: EPA, USA.

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Health Service Executive (Ireland) Factsheet

January 2011

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning – A Guide for GP’s & Other Medical Professionals

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (375kb)

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Sustainable Buildings – Design Agenda for the 21st Century ?

2009-05-06:  From the late 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s in European Union (EU) Research Programmes, it was noticeable that the more pressing early concerns about Energy-efficiency – logical after the oil crises of the 1970’s – were beginning to merge with those of Environment-friendliness, i.e. protection of the environment.  Even at that time, however, faint background references to Sustainability were becoming more common.

 

In 1995, therefore, Sustainable Design International developed and introduced the acronym ‘SEED’ … which stands for Sustainable, Environment-friendly, Energy-efficient Development … as a practical control, or check, on our own work output.

 

 

The next break-through came a few years later.  I briefly discussed the wide conceptual basis for our Corporate Design Philosophy in the post: ‘Sustainable Human & Social Development ?’, dated 2009-03-31.  This basis, while still continually evolving, is critical in terms of services provided, performance targets to be achieved, methods of working and relationships with client organizations, builders, craftsmen/women, manufacturers, etc.

 

This should explain the futility, in our humble view, of the ‘Green’ Agenda (as distinct from the ‘Sustainability’ Agenda) … and approaches based solely on Environmental Aspects of Sustainable Development.  They are a complete waste of time and resources.

 

 

Now in 2009, we remain fully convinced that Sustainable Design Solutions are appropriate to local geography, social need, climate, economy and culture … and are ‘person-centred’ and ‘reliability-based’.

 

Forget the images of mud housing and reading by candle light … the Future of our Built Environment is High-Tech, Smart … and Sustainable !   Let there be no doubt !!

 

 

 

Why not begin, so, by looking at a Simple Building Type … Sustainable Housing ?

 

With all of the current hype and fuss about German ‘Passiv’ Houses and Austrian High-Tech Timber Framed Construction … we have been in contact with a number of manufacturers in this region of Central Europe.  After many meetings and detailed discussions, we are disappointed … broken hearted !

 

Below follows our shopping list for the practical, commercial and affordable application, i.e. non-research, of Advanced Systems of Construction (small/medium/large scale projects – new-build and existing projects).

 

N.B.  Current Irish legal requirements and local authority technical control procedures are entirely inadequate.

 

Is anybody out there listening ???

 

 

 

To meet the urgency of Climate Change Adaptation and the challenge of Reliable Sustainability Implementation … a ‘SEED’ Building in Ireland must reach these performance targets:

 

         be set in Sustainable Landscaping (where appropriate) with Life Cycle Sustainable Drainage … and exhibit a considered, harmonious relationship between the building’s ‘interior’ environment and the ‘exterior’ built and social environments ;

 

         have a Minimum Building Life Cycle of 100 Years ;

 

         be Smart/Intelligent, Electronically Mature and facilitate Remote Building Management ;

 

         be properly shown to be Fit for Intended Use (in the Location of Use) … by CE Marking, using European Standards/Norms & European Technical Approvals (refer to Part D of the Irish Building Regulations and similar requirements in other European national building codes, European Union Safety at Work and Product Liability Legislation) ;

 

         be Super Energy-Efficient, with negligible thermal bridging and accidental air seepage … and promote and encourage, by design, Energy Conservation ;

 

         have a substantial component of Renewable Energy & Heat Technologies … sufficient to return a multiple of the building’s energy consumption to an Intelligent Regional or District Grid … and also incorporate Recycling, Rainwater Re-Use and Waste Management Technologies ;

 

         offer a high level of Indoor Air Quality, including proper protection from Natural Radon ;

 

         be Flexible and Adaptable with regard to internal layout, and Accessible for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) – in order to prolong Building Life Cycle and maximize Building Usability ;

 

         contain, as standard and for reasons of safety, a Domestic Sprinkler System and a remotely monitored Fire Detection System … plus a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection System, with a detection unit in the vicinity of each fuel burning appliance ;

 

and

 

         be Competently Built and Reliably Completed to project programme and cost estimate … with the building’s ‘Real’ Performance-in-Use capable of being tested, and continually monitored, over the complete building life cycle ;

 

and

 

         be simple and straightforward for Building Users/Occupiers to operate.

 

 

 

Principal Areas of Inadequate Performance …

 

1.  Showing Fitness for Intended Use.  Although a Single European Market for the Construction Sector exists on paper (not yet in reality) … this requirement is not well understood by manufacturers … particularly in Germany and Austria, where outdated national approaches to building product/system approval still take precedence over anything at European level.

 

2.  Domestic Sprinkler Systems.  There is a high level of resistance, among most manufacturers, to the installation of these systems.  Not acceptable !!

 

3.  Accessibility of Buildings for People with Activity Limitations.  Not well understood by manufacturers and building organizations (at all levels).  Although there is a lot of legislation in Europe covering this particular issue … it is routinely disregarded and/or very poorly implemented.  In Germany and Austria, for example, the long outdated term ‘barrier-free design’ is still in common use.  Can you believe that ?

 

4.  Radon Protection of Buildings.  Not considered important in Germany and Austria … so manufacturers just don’t bother.

 

5.  Fabric Thermal Performance.  Where building systems are ‘adapted’ for use in Ireland, I have seen thermal performance, as originally designed in Germany/Austria, seriously compromised by the installation of meter boxes and permanent ventilation openings in external walls.  Just the tip of the iceberg !

 

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BER Certificates & Poor Indoor Air Quality (III)

2009-02-27:  Energy Labelling of Industrial Products is an essential means of raising consumer awareness about energy efficiency and conservation.  I like being able to wander into an electrical shop anywhere in Ireland, Italy or Turkey, for example … and to compare the energy performance of different makes of washing machines, dishwashers or fridges … and even of apparently similar products in the different countries.

 

I can easily visualize these small industrial products being brought into a test laboratory, and then being put through their paces.  It is a credible system.

 

This is NOT possible, however, with a building.

 

 

EU Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 16 December 2002, on the Energy Performance of Buildings … is a short document of 7 Pages.  Its Preamble takes up slightly more than the first 2 Pages, and there is a 1 Page Annex at the rear.  Its language is clear and straightforward (see the example of Article 4 below).

 

[What I fail to understand is how and why the Irish National Legislation which implements the Directive … Statutory Instrument No. 666 of 2006: European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006 … is so clumsy, awkward and full of flaws … offering us yet another example of failed ‘light-touch regulation’.  It may also be unconstitutional.]

 

 

 

The EU Directive has something important to say about Indoor Air Quality

 

Article 4 – Setting of Energy Performance Requirements

 

1. Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that minimum energy performance requirements for buildings are set, based on the methodology referred to in Article 3.  When setting requirements, Member States may differentiate between new and existing buildings and different categories of buildings.  These requirements shall take account of general indoor climate conditions, in order to avoid possible negative effects such as inadequate ventilation, as well as local conditions and the designated function and the age of the building.

 

[Quick flashback to a generation ago … the panic, throughout Europe, to conserve energy in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s led to a dramatic reduction in rates and quantities of direct, natural ventilation to the habitable spaces of buildings.  This, in turn, had an adverse impact on Indoor Air Quality, and led to a sharp rise in Asthma among building occupants.]

 

 

 

In Ireland, today, problems concerning Poor Indoor Air Quality continue to occur … typically during the Winter Heating Season.  There is a natural tendency to keep windows closed and to seal permanent ventilation openings.  Accidental indoor air seepage to the exterior is also being reduced in our newer building stock.

 

Poor Indoor Air Quality, an important factor in relation to building related ill-health (also known as ‘sick building syndrome’), can cause serious health impairments and severely restrict a person’s participation in everyday activities, e.g. work.

 

Symptoms and Signs may include:

         irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;

         respiratory infections and cough ;

         voice hoarseness and wheezing ;

         asthma ;

         dry mucous membrane and skin ;

         erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;

         lethargy ;

         mental fatigue and poor concentration ;

         headache ;

         stress ;

         hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. allergies ;

         nausea and dizziness ;

         cancers.

 

 

 

The following 2 Performance Indicators of Good Indoor Air Quality, developed with the aim of protecting human health, are recommended:

 

         Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300 to 500 parts per million – but should at no time exceed 800 parts per million ;

 

         Radon Activity (including Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD) in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10 to 40 Bq/m3 … but should at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3.

 

 

NOTES:

 

The concept of Protecting Human Health is altogether different from the concept of Assessing Risk to Safety.

 

In Ireland, testing for Radon Activity in buildings must take place during the Heating Season, i.e. the months of November through to March.  What is the use of testing during July, for example, when windows will be wide open ?   Who would even think of doing that ?   I wonder.

 

Measurement Uncertainty of the standard Alpha Particle Etched-Track Detector distributed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) is as follows:

         under laboratory conditions: …………………… in the order of …… +/- 10%

         under tightly controlled site conditions: …. in the order of …… +/- 20%

         under typical conditions of use: …………….. well in excess of … +/- 30%

 

Unfortunately, until the RPII includes proper statements of Measurement Uncertainty in its Test Reports … our Organization cannot recommend RPII Radon Testing Services, and we will not accept RPII Test Reports as proper evidence of Radon Test Results.

 

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