Is your building 'sick'?

Is your building 'sick'?

Structural problems

Do you experience persi­stent eye irritation, itching on the skin or nausea in your workplace or ho­me?

Does it come back inexplicably after every few months inspite of medication? Surprisingly, do the symptoms sub­­­­-side once you are out of the structure? There are chances that your residence or office could be classified as a ‘sick building.’

In the developed world, there are standards set by statutory bodies on how a building should be constructed, the amount of ventilation and sunlight that should be provided for and the buildi­­­-n­g’s maintenance. Since in India, we have conventionally followed the principles of natural ventilation, no such rules have been provided for. However, with the increasing tre­nd of centrally-air-conditioned buildings, the ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ is being noticed here as well.

Professor Mukesh Khare of IIT (Delhi), an expert in ‘indoor air pollution,’ says, “The American Standards for Hea­ting, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) defines a sick building as one where the occupants experience itching, nausea, headache and other such health ailments post staying for two hours only. The moment they come out, the symptoms vanish.”

“The reasons can vary fro­m poor ventilation whereby the amount of stale air circulating is far greater than fre­sh air made available in the ro­om, organic pollutants such as toxic paints, carpet, varni­sh, particle pores and even very old furniture, to the building material.”

Avikal Somvanshi, resea­rcher at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and a specialist in ‘sustainable buildings’ adds, “A major problem is also noticed with the amount of sunlight filtering in. Buildings with little amount of sunlight are associated with rise in bacteria, dampness and even psychological ailments. Unfortunately, building constructers in India are still not fully aware of the repercussions of a bad design and continue to make buildings without keeping in mind such considerations.”

Professor Khare and a few of his colleagues in IIT(D) form one of the few groups in the city which offer to do ‘indoor quality assessments’ in buildings. Sadly, he lam­e­nts, only a handful appro­ach them, and certain office bui­ldings, where occupants ha­ve repeatedly complained of health problems, the authorities have even refused requ­ests for ‘corrections.’

He informs, “There are a few examples, though, in the city which can be cited as model ‘healthy buildings’. The Paharpur Tower in Neh­ru Place and the Capital To­w­er in Munirka, both of whi­ch have come up not very lo­­­­ng back, have carefully co­nsi­dered parameters for ‘he­a­lthy buildings.’ They ha­ve equipments to check the indoor air quality at every floor and maintain an appropriate humidity and temperature level to keep in check germs.”

Almost two decades back, this group did a study on Terminal 1 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport and found it to be ‘sick’. Of cou­r­se, IGIA has been redone si­n­ce. But hardly any such stu­dies have been commi­­­­­s­s­ioned by authorities from that time. “The Central Pollution Control Board, though, is coming up with some guidelines I am told. Let’s hope that it sets a new standard in how buildings ought to be constructed and maintained,” says professor Khare.