Friday, June 28, 2013

Study Shows Link Between LEED Buildings and Residents' Health

Asthma is the most common chronic disease for American children, affecting 10% of children nationwide. In low-income, urban neighborhoods, asthma affects over 20% of children and accounts for over $65 billion in health expenses annually. Recently, members of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Blue Sea Development conducted a study ("Impact of LEED-Certified Affordable Housing on Asthma in the South Bronx") on how LEED certified buildings impacted children living with asthma.

LEED certified apartment building air quality
Melrose Commons
Often green buildings are praised for their impact on the mental and physical health of their occupants. For example, medical facilities have begun using green roofs to improve the mental health of its patients. The efficient heating and cooling systems of green buildings are shown to decrease fatigue, headaches, discomfort, and skin problems of occupants.

In order to study the impact of these green buildings on respiratory health, Mount Sinai moved tenants from their urban apartments into a LEED-certified apartment building in the Bronx called the Melrose Commons. The study showed that indoor air pollutants are greater in low-income, urban households and that there were higher numbers of indoor allergens, pests, and mold present in these homes. To view the impact of indoor air quality on tenants living with asthma, pets were not allowed in the LEED-certified building, and smoking was prohibited within 25 feet of the complex.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine additionally provided tenants with asthma education sessions, teaching them common triggers of asthma. The green apartment building was also constructed using construction materials with low environmental pollutants and an efficient, green ventilation system.

After families moved into these affordable LEED-certified houses for an 18-month period, the study found:
  • A significant decrease in daytime respiratory symptoms, 
  • A decrease in nighttime asthma symptoms that typically disturb sleep
  • A decrease in urgent health care visits for asthma attacks
  • A decrease in the number of days they experienced asthma symptoms
  • A decrease in the number of days missed from work or school
  • An increase in use of hypoallergenic materials
  • An increase in green cleaning materials
The study demonstrates that there is a link between energy efficient homes and the health of the residents. LEED-certified buildings aim to improve indoor air quality and eliminate pests and mold.  City planners and builders need to make indoor air quality and healthier homes a priority and are encouraged to use LEED and green building standards as guidelines, as asthma burdens many communities nationwide. Public health workers and environmental health specialists can also use these new findings to develop advocacy efforts and outreach programs to teach low-income residents and families about harmful asthma triggers and the importance of healthy homes.