Energy-efficient buildings can be hazardous to health
Buildings that are being weatherized and made energy-efficient and air tight can be hazardous to one’s health, according to a new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report. The report, “Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health,” prepared by a committee chaired by Harvard School of Public Health’s (HSPH) John Spengler, recommends that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensure that building weatherization and energy-efficiency efforts not generate new indoor health issues or worsen existing air quality. Among concerns cited are energy-efficiency updates (retrofits) of older buildings, use of untested or risky upgrades, and other alterations that could generate mold-causing dampness, poor ventilation, excessive temperatures, and emissions from building materials that may contribute to health problems.
“America is in the midst of a large experiment in which weatherization efforts, retrofits and other initiatives that affect air exchange between the indoor and outdoor environments are taking place, and new building materials and consumer products are being introduced indoors with relatively little consideration as to how they might affect the health of occupants,” Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation at HSPH, said in an IOM press release. “Experience suggests that some of the effects could be negative. An upfront investment to consider the consequences of these actions before they play out and to avoid problems where they can be anticipated will yield benefits in health and in averted costs of medical care, remediation, and lost productivity.”
The report was written at the request of the EPA, which asked the IOM to summarize current scientific understanding of the effects of climate change on indoor air and public health, and to offer priorities for action.