Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and
Building Related Illness (BRI)

Long term exposure to VOC contributes to SBS and BRI. Based on the US Environmental Protection Agency (1991), SBS and BRI are compared in Table 3 below:

Table 3: Comparison between SBS & BRI

  Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) Building Related Illness (BRI)
Definition An illness temporarily associated with an occupant’s presence in a building caused by indoor air pollutants. A diagnosable illness caused by an identified agent in the indoor air.
Symptoms Headaches
Eye, nose, throat irritation
Dry cough
Dry or itchy skin
Chest tightness
Muscle aches
Cause Unknown Identified
Symptom after leaving building Relief Require prolong recovery time


Photo-ionization Detector (PID)
A PID is commonly used to measure TVOC mainly because it is the most efficient on the market. It provides instant and continuous readings to the user. However, if there’s a rapid temperature change or humidity level is high, the reading maybe affected.

PID is great for indicating the presence of VOC but it doesn’t identify the exact type of VOC. If a TVOC reading is 200 µg/m3 and increased to 300 µg/m3 the next month, it’s impossible to say the increase was due to formaldehyde. It’s also impossible to identify what combination of VOC made up the TVOC reading.

Ideally, measuring the exact type of VOC and monitoring it is a better practice. Unfortunately, this is not the case due to very high cost and convenience. In the short term, having one instrument to provide a TVOC reading as well as other sensors is less expensive and easier for the technician than to have to carry multiple units for each type of chemical. However, in the long term, if a high reading was detected, it will cost more to solve the problem since the type of VOC needs to be identified before a solution gets established. The technician would need to make a lot of assumptions and do a lot of trial and error runs which could take forever or a more simple method would be to analyze the air samples. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, other costs that get lumped into the problem are evacuation of the occupants, specific VOC detector(s) needs to be purchased, delays of other projects, and the time of all the individuals involved.

Common buildings that should monitor their IAQ include:

    • Hospitals


    • Scientific facilities eg. laboratories


    • School


    • Commercial buildings


    • Warehouses


    • Industrial buildings


    • Parkades


    • Repair shops


    • Food plants


    • Salons & spas


    • Manufacturing Plants


    • Medical Offices


    • Construction sites


    • Transportation facilities


    • And many more…

Written by: Teresa Kouch, Marketing