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Green Buildings and Human Health

Categories: Construction, Environment/Green Jobs, Prevention Through Design

Earlier this year I participated in the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Summit on Green Buildings and Human Health. At USGBC’s invitation, I authored a blog that appears on their website. We are co-posting the blog on the NIOSH Science Blog. The Summit was very successful, and USGBC is open to including worker issues into their initiatives. Please share your thoughts on this important issue in the comment section below.

 

Tackling the many challenges of making the construction and occupation of commercial and residential buildings in the United States green and sustainable is not an easy one, but the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is to be congratulated for working aggressively to address them. Championing commitments to environmental sustainability, energy reduction, social equity, and human health demonstrate the commitment of the USGBC to take steps that will benefit both the environment and the businesses that construct, as well as occupy, these structures. LEED[1] has evolved over time on a trajectory towards true sustainability. USGBC is to be commended further for looking introspectively at how health is considered in LEED, and the relative priority given to energy and environmental factors.

 

Given LEED’s current focus on occupants and indoor air quality, it provides a strong foundation on which we can build. As we discussed at the Summit, health is a broad subject that includes a range of important topics like well-being and illness. Therefore, health is a good concept for helping to make LEED more inclusive. For example, the health and safety of the workers who construct, maintain and clean buildings is a logical component of any comprehensive health approach. At the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) such a notion is clear to us. NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of occupational illness and injury in the United States. Through its Construction Program, NIOSH develops, facilitates, and promotes innovative workplace safety and health practices for workers in the building trades. NIOSH also has a Prevention through Design (PtD) national initiative, which addresses design-related occupational injuries and illnesses by encouraging the elimination of hazards and minimizing risks to workers across all industry sectors and settings. PtD examines the potential for hazards throughout the life cycle of work premises, tools, equipment, machinery, substances, and worker processes. This includes their construction, manufacture, use, maintenance, and ultimate disposal or reuse. Together, the NIOSH Construction and PtD programs collaborate on efforts to increase the use of design interventions to address safety and health hazards early in the pre-design and design processes in the construction sector. Based on the discussions during the Summit, we think that these same elements will resonate with USGBC and its stakeholders.

 

The USGBC’s Summit on Green Building and Human Health was a bold and thought-provoking opportunity to engage a wide variety of stakeholders on the topics of green buildings and how humans interact with them. I was pleased by the reception given to the concept of including worker safety and health as part of a broader view of health. While for some participants it was a population that was in mind already, for others it was a new one on which to focus. The welcoming attitude at the Summit of worker safety and health was refreshing, and helped in making for fruitful discussions on the effect of green building on human health. USGBC is on a good course, and I look forward to the additional collaboration that is likely to come. This latest effort is making “sustainability” a more inclusive and meaningful term.

 

For more information from NIOSH see:
Christine Branche, Ph.D.
Dr. Branche is the Principal Associate Director of NIOSH and Director of the NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health.

[1] LEED stands for USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. June 10, 2013 at 5:57 pm ET  -   Lawrence A. Plumlee, M.D.

    Chemically injured persons sometimes remain hypersensitive to many chemicals in indoor air for years after their injuries. But there are usually no labels on new green buildings to help such persons to identify the solvents in wallboard or new carpet that are causing their symptoms. Generally, newer LEED buildings are less well tolerated than older buildings made of conventional materials. There needs to be much more attention given to identifying and minimizing the chemical components of LEED buildings that are toxic to chemically sensitive occupants.

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  2. June 11, 2013 at 10:30 am ET  -   Heal City

    Thanks for sharing. Really Interesting. Great Informative post on Health and Healing. I’ll share this with my friends and acquaintances.

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    • AUTHOR COMMENT June 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm ET  -   Christine Branche

      Thank you for letting us know that you found the information helpful, and thank you for sharing it.

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  3. June 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm ET  -   Dale Walsh

    More lip service from the USGBC. I am a LEED-AP BD+C, a national member of the USGBC, and a former Director for the Nevada Chapter of the USGBC. I have been commenting on LEED for at least a decade now and have been totally ignored. It is my opinion based on a decade of experience and talking to other Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs) that the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for LEED has purposefully excluded industrial hygienists. It is run by engineers who apparently don’t want IHs mucking up their “increased outoor air fixes all” approach. They don’t understand the evaluation and control of chemical and biological exposures and associated health issues. Until CIHs (and CSPs) are made a part of the IEQ TAG the USGBC will continue to have inadequate approaches to assuring good indoor air quality in Green buildings as well as addressing safety issues.

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  4. June 17, 2013 at 8:19 am ET  -   David Wolff

    Dr. Branche:

    I suspect I speak for many in the H&S field in expressing appreciation for NIOSH efforts in reaching out to the USGBC. Likewise with the NIOSH Safety in Design initiative. Good work.

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  5. June 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm ET  -   Robert Bean, R.E.T., P.L.(Eng.)

    While I applaud the USGBC and CDC for the work going into “Green Buildings and Human Health” would it be possible for members of both groups stop using indoor air quality (IAQ) as a proxy for indoor environmental quality (IEQ) as perpetuated among “green specialist” and CDC own website which states, “Indoor Environmental Quality simply refers to the quality of the air in an office or other building environments.”

    Using IAQ to represent IEQ is inaccurate and serves only to dilute a non-trivial term as has already occurred with “Green” and “Sustainability”.

    Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) encompasses all characteristics of the indoor environment which have an influence on all the sensory systems of the human body. That includes sound, light, thermal, vibration and odors.

    To promote as IAQ = IEQ is to ignore or lessen the importance of five other key environmental factors which for some are more deleterious than IAQ.

    Other than that one small request – please keep up the good work!

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  6. June 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm ET  -   David W. Bearg, P.E.

    It’s interesting to read the perception that LEED promotes an “increased outdoor air fixes all” approach, as they are merely requiring the ASHRAE 62.1 minimum ventilation rates. These rates are for achieving “acceptable IAQ”, where at least 80% of those exposed are not dissatisfied. One health benefit that has been shown to improve the health of the occupants, in terms of reduced short-term absentee rates, is by increasing outdoor air ventilation rates, but this hasn’t been required by LEED. So I wonder why this claim is being made?

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  7. February 23, 2014 at 9:25 am ET  -   schele metalice

    Great topic ! BIG Like !

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  8. March 6, 2014 at 7:32 am ET  -   proxy

    thanks for this good info

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  9. May 1, 2014 at 6:24 am ET  -   Patti Potteiger

    Nice Post

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  10. May 23, 2014 at 3:42 am ET  -   Robert Geyer

    Great blog to read. Highly informative. Green building concept, a step towards saving the nature. Health and environment have now been connected to each other in a manner. Pure environment will automatically leads to good health. Summits and conferences like these will be a great move to start an initiative in favor of clean and healthy environment. An additional suggestion is that all the top environmental consultant should gather together and make some portfolios in awakening people, run some campaigns and encourage summits like USGBC.

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  11. August 27, 2014 at 7:15 am ET  -   Mahendra Das

    Great blog to read. It’s interesting to read the perception that LEED promotes an “increased outdoor air fixes all” approach,Thank you for letting us know that you found the information helpful, and thank you for sharing it.

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  12. October 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm ET  -   claviera

    Great blog to read. Highly informative. Green building concept, a step towards saving the nature. Health and environment have now been connected to each other in a manner. Pure environment will automatically leads to good health. Summits and conferences like these will be a great move to start an initiative in favor of clean and healthy environment. An additional suggestion is that all the top environmental consultant should gather together and make some portfolios in awakening people, run some campaigns and encourage summits like USGB..

    Link to this comment

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