Board members and association managers have a lot on their plates—maintenance issues, resident complaints, construction projects, and the hundred little tasks that make up the administration and upkeep of a multifamily residential building or development. With all that going on, it's easy to forget or overlook issues that may not necessarily be visible to the naked eye. Something like indoor air quality often doesn't register as a priority until it becomes a problem, and even then it can be tough to pinpoint the root of the issue.
About two decades ago, the term “sick building syndrome” seemed to pop up regularly in news headlines to describe a situation in which a building's ventilation system was compromised, leading to health or comfort issues for its occupants. Since then, the term has fallen out of favor, according to indoor environmental professionals.
“Sick building syndrome is an old term,” says Gil Cormier, principal consultant for Occupational Risk Control Services, Inc., an indoor air quality investigation service in New Britain, Connecticut. “No one really uses it anymore, especially when you are talking about residential buildings. Now, what you hear is the term ‘Building Related Illness' or BRI, which is something that we can go in and identify.”
Harvey Klein of Garden State Laboratories in Hillside agrees. "Sick building syndrome is not a scientific term. Some buildings do have air or water problems, but 'sick building syndrome' is not a term that we would use in our environmental testing.”
With a building-related illness, the symptoms are more tied to the building itself, says Cormier. General assessments are made to discover what the causes are for any symptoms people are experiencing. “Our focus is on what the source is, and whether it's a chemical or biological contaminate,” he says. “If it’s something that is a one-time thing, we are not as concerned, if we can find out what it is and it’s not repeated.”