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Green Buildings and Health: 40 Years of Evidence Summarized by the Team at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health

YijunW CA, United States 0 Ratings 134 Discussions 0 Group posts

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Summary of Recent 40 Years of Research: Why is Green Building Necessary?

You are in the middle of a global green movement. Have you ever asked yourself why is green building necessary? Maybe you have heard of one expert says one good aspect of green building and the other researcher says another. Is it a little bit chaotic? Today, I found a paper summarizing 40 years of research regarding the relationship between buildings and human health. After today, I hope you will find more answers as to why green building is important for health and which element of the green building is the most vital to you.

In researchers J. G. Cedeno-Laurent, et al’s paper "Building Evidence for Health Green Buildings, Current Science, and Future Challenges," the team summarizes the past four decades of green and conventional buildings research, focusing on nine green elements: indoor air quality (IAQ), ventilation, thermal health, water quality, dampness and mold, dust and pests, noise, light and views, and safety and security. The elements were chosen on a basis of a causal or strongly suggestive relationship between each element and health outcomes.

Indoor Air Quality
The study found that poor IAQ has been associated with both acute effects such as a headache, irritation, asthma, and fatigue, as well as chronic effects like cancer, depending on types of pollutant, pollutant concentration, and exposure duration. A 2008 meta-analysis evaluated the monetary and societal costs of poor IAQ costs, including productivity loss, healthcare expenses, and building damages from moist air and mold (2).

In addition, economic savings from the clean indoor environment is significant. In the United States, the annual estimated savings ranged from $25 billion to $150 billion (3).

Ventilation, another important green building element, was found to have a strong association with cognitive function. An increase of 400-ppm in indoor CO2 level is related to a 21% decrease in cognitive performance (4, 5, 6).

Thermal Health
Research also finds that thermal conditions of indoor environments can impact performance and learning, such that task and cognitive performance is reduced under high temperatures. The result is consistent across an office, college, and school environments (7, 8, 9, 10).

Water Quality
A 2017 U.S. water infrastructure assessment reported significant deterioration of water pipes and cited as “poor to fair condition and mostly below standard” with “strong risk of failure” (11). One type of bacteria, Legionella, which thrived in stagnating water in building water systems, accounted for two-thirds of U.S. waterborne illness outbreaks, 26% of reported illnesses and all 14 reported deaths (12).

The most common health concern induced by moisture-resulted mold is asthma. Out of 21.8 million asthma cases, 21 percent are caused by residential dampness and mold (13). Other complications which consistently associated with mold include but not limited to allergy, respiratory issues such as a cough, wheeze, chest tightness, and laryngeal dysfunction (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).

Safety and Security
When people feel their security is threatened, their bodies produce biological fight-or-flight responses which change their physical and psychological functioning and thus raise heart rate and blood pressure (19, 18). Over time, these responses can stress hormones and suppress immunity, exacerbating vulnerabilities in autoimmune diseases and inflammatory conditions (21, 22).

Selective light exposure timing, spectrum, intensity, and duration has been studied to elevate alertness, enhance productivity, and cure sleep disorder and mood disorder (23, 24, 25, 26).

Long exposure to high noise intensity (>85 dBA)
is associated with hearing loss (27). In the United States, 24 percent of people present symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss. Buildings act as noise-blocking bricks to protect human hearing (27).
Open windows and bedrooms facing toward the road are found to increase cardiovascular and hypertension risk (20).

Dust and Pests
Dust serves as a reservoir for harmful particles such as viruses, bacteria, allergens, and flakes of paint with lead. (28)
Studies have found that the chemical residue in blood is directly correlated with the chemical at the working environment. (29)
Allergens can help develop and exacerbate asthma, which causes 439,000 hospitalizations, 1.8 million emergency room visits, and 3,600 deaths in the United States per year. (30)

Green buildings are a necessary but insufficient component for our future sustainable urbanization. Building for health is the model of our future which “includes a focus on ecosystem health (green buildings) and indoor health (healthy buildings).” The evidence presents here is a small proportion of overwhelming evidence generated over the past 40 years that demonstrates how buildings influence human health. Thus we need to build green for our sustainable future.

To read more about the ninth element dust and the paper, please visit:
J.G. Cedeño-Laurent, A. Williams, P. MacNaughton, X. Cao, E. Eitland, J. Spengler, and J. Allen

Studies researched, for additional reference:
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Fisk WJ, Rosenfeld AH. 1997. Estimates of improved productivity and health from better indoor envi- 
ronments. Indoor Air 7:158–72 

Allen JG, MacNaughton P, Satish U, Santanam S, Vallarino J, Spengler JD. 2016. Associations of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposures in office workers: a controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. Environ. Health Perspect. 124:805–12 

MacNaughton P, Pegues J, Satish U, Santanam S, Spengler J, Allen J. 2015. Economic, environmental and health implications of enhanced ventilation in office buildings. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 12:14709–22 

MacNaughton P, Satish U, Laurent JGC, Flanigan S, Vallarino J, et al. 2017. The impact of working in a green certified building on cognitive function and health. Build. Environ. 114:178–86 

Haverinen-Shaughnessy U, Shaughnessy R. 2015. Effects of classroom ventilation rate and temperature 
on students’ test scores. PLOS ONE 10:e0136165 

Lan L, Wargocki P, Lian Z. 2011. Quantitative measurement of productivity loss due to thermal dis
comfort. Energy Build. 43:1057–62 

Lan L, Wargocki P, Wyon DP, Lian Z. 2011. Effects of thermal discomfort in an office on perceived air 
quality, SBS symptoms, physiological responses, and human performance. Indoor Air 21:376–90 

Zhang F, de Dear R 2017. University students’ cognitive performance under temperature cycles induced by direct load control events. Indoor Air 27:78–93 

ASCE (Am. Soc. Civ. Eng.). 2017. 2017 infrastructure report card: drinking water. ASCE, Reston, VA.
Beer KD, Gargano JW, Roberts VA, Hill VR, Garrison LE, et al. 2015. Surveillance for waterborne disease outbreaks associated with drinking water—United States, 2011–2012. MMWR 64:842–48 

Kanchongkittiphon W, Mendell MJ, Gaffin JM, Wang G,Phipatanakul W. 2015. Indoorenvironmental 
exposures and exacerbation of asthma: an update to the 2000 review by the Institute of Medicine. Environ. 
Health Perspect. 123:6–20 

Bornehag C, Sundell J, Sigsgaard T. 2004. Dampness in buildings and health (DBH): report from an 
ongoing epidemiological investigation on the association between indoor environmental factors and 
health effects among children in Sweden. Indoor Air 14:59–66 

Cummings K, Fink J, Vasudev M, Piacitelli C, Kreiss K. 2013. Vocal cord dysfunction related to water- damaged buildings. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. Pract. 1:46–50 

Mendell MJ, Kumagai K. 2017. Observation-based metrics for residential dampness and mold with 
dose–response relationships to health: a review. Indoor Air 27:506–17
Mendell MJ, Mirer AG, Cheung K, Tong M, Douwes J. 2011. Respiratory and allergic health effects of 
dampness, mold, and dampness-related agents: a review of the epidemiologic evidence. Environ. Health 
Perspect. 119:748–56 

APA (Am.Psychol.Assoc.) 2013. How stress affects your health. APA, Washington, DC.
Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel SD.2005. Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological 
determinants. Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol. 1:607–28
Babisch W. 2006. Transportation noise and cardiovascular risk: updated review and synthesis of epidemiological studies indicate that the evidence has increased. Noise Health 8:1–29 

Marsland A, Bachen E, Cohen S, Rabin B, Manuck S. 2002. Stress, immune reactivity and susceptibility to infectious disease. Physiol. Behav. 77:711–16 

Stafford M, Chandola T, Marmot M. 2007. Association between fear of crime and mental health and 
physical functioning. Am. J. Public Health 97:2076–81 

Andersen M. 2015. Unweaving the human response in daylighting design. Build. Environ. 91:101–17 

Keis O, Helbig H, Streb J, Hille K. 2014. Influence of blue-enriched classroom lighting on students’ 
cognitive performance. Trends Neurosci. Educ. 3:86–92 

Lockley SW, Evans EE, Scheer F, Brainard GC, Czeisler CA, Aeschbach D. 2006. Short-wavelength sensitivity for the direct effects of light on alertness, vigilance, and the waking electroencephalogram in 
humans. Sleep 29:161–68 

Viola A, James L, Schlangen L, Dijk D. 2008. Blue-enriched white light in the workplace improves self-reported alertness, performance and sleep quality. Scand. J. Work Environ. Health 34:297–306 

Basner M, Brink M, Bristow A, de Kluizenaar Y, Finegold L, et al. 2015. ICBEN review of research on the biological effects of noise 2011–2014. Noise Health 17:57–82 

Butte W, Heinzow B. 2002. Pollutants in house dust as indicators of indoor contamination. Rev. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 175:1–46
CDC (Cent. Dis. Control Prev.). 2017. Most recent asthma data. Updated June, CDC, Atlanta.
Zota AR, Rudel RA, Morello-Frosch RA, Brody JG. 2008. Elevated house dust and serum concentrations of PBDEs in California: unintended consequences of furniture flammability standards?Environ. Sci. Technol. 42:8158–64



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