Dry eyes, headaches, fatigue. Building 58, the new AS building, was delivered in 2016. Once occupied, people started experiencing health complaints. A group of 15 to 20 staff members regularly reported ill. The indoor climate was quickly given the blame. In an article in Delta in December 2017, Dean Professor Lucas van Vliet called the indoor climate ‘a persistent problem’.
A few years later, this chapter is not yet closed. The Faculty has informed its staff of new tests into the possible causes.
Earlier studies, carried out by scientists of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment and two engineering firms, pointed to the cooling and heating systems and the recirculation units (RCU) of the air treatment systems. The RCUs emit a low frequency sound of 27 to 28 Hertz which can cause people to feel unwell. The symptoms disappeared when the system was adjusted. The last series of RCUs were adjusted in October 2019.
Can't be too sure
While it’s better now, the Faculty is not yet completely satisfied with the outcomes. “There were already periods previously that lasted a few months in which there were no complaints,” says Van Vliet. “We can’t know for sure now that the problems are definitely over.”
Van Vliet suggests that the problems may be connected to the weather. The outdoor climate influences the cooling, heating and air treatment systems. And even the way in which the offices and laboratories are used may play a role, for example in the number of people in the building at one time and the type of experiments being done in the laboratories.
Most of the health complaints came from staff members in the Department of Bionanoscience
Van Vliet continues. “We want to take measurements of the indoor and outdoor climate over all four seasons. We will ask the staff who have health complaints to log how they feel and inform us accordingly.”
The building will also have to ‘go dark’ at some point. That is, it will be disconnected from the power grid. This must be done to connect new climate control units. “This will require good planning,” says Van Vliet. “There are always ongoing experiments that need electricity, but with good consultation with the scientists we should be able to arrange it.”
Most of the health complaints came from staff members in the Department of Bionanoscience on the ground floor. At the department we speak with technician Jacob Kerssemakers. He didn’t get ill, but people around him did. “This kind of thing divides the community,” he says. “There are the believers and the non-believers. But you really shouldn’t go into it, you need to take the issue seriously and have tests done.”
Delta sought contact with two people with health complaints, but they preferred not to comment.