Magazine article In These Times

Bad Air in 'Green' Buildings

Magazine article In These Times

Bad Air in 'Green' Buildings

Article excerpt

AS THE "GREEN design" economy grows, consumers tend to equate energy-efficient construction with environmentalism. We assume green buildings are in the interest of both the planet and public health. But a recent dust-up between a nonprofit that certifies energy-efficient buildings and a nonprofit concerned about human health has challenged this easy association, raising questions about the costs of going "green."

A May report from Connecticut-based Environment and Human Health, Inc., titled "LEED Certification: Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health," raises concerns about indoor air quality in LEED-certified buildings. A certification of the US. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The report notes that LEED certification offers a total of 110 points in seven categories, and that it's possible to get the top rating - Platinum - while scoring zero points (out of 15) in "indoor environmental quality."

The seven LEED categories include energy and atmosphere; sustainable sites; indoor environmental quality; materials and resources; water efficiency; innovation in design; and bonus credits. Of the 110 points, 35 are allocated to energy and atmosphere.

The report also raises questions about the quality of water (not just water efficiency), and the presence of pesticides in the building. It states, "There is no legal requirement to inform occupants about the chemicals that have been applied, their potential health effects, or their rate of dissipation."

The report recommends remedies to these problems, such as putting more health experts on the USGBC board and requiring that builders earn a minimum number of points in each category.

Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at USGBC, said EHHIs objections seemed based on theory. "In practice," he said, "it's very hard to earn a Platinum rating without addressing indoor air quality."

According to the report, as buildings become "greener," i.e., tighter and more energy-efficient, the danger of trapping pollutants inside increases. …

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