New Report: Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health

Source: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies

AUSTIN, Texas — As alterations of weather patterns related to climate change become more common, people may face unexpected health problems resulting from both the effects of climate change on the indoor environment and the steps taken to mitigate those changes, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should ensure that climate change and the materials and methods used in building weatherization and energy-efficiency retrofits do not create new indoor problems or exacerbate existing ones, such as mold-causing dampness, secondhand smoke, and chemical emissions from building materials, said the committee that wrote the report.

Indoor dampness, poor ventilation, excessive temperatures, and emissions from building materials and equipment such as back-up power generators all can contribute to health problems.  The push to improve buildings’ energy efficiency has spurred more rapid introduction of untested new materials and building retrofits that limit and alter air flow and may concentrate indoor pollutants such as chemical emissions and environmental tobacco smoke.  Government agencies and other organizations are developing and promoting protocols to evaluate emissions from furnishings, building materials, and appliances, but more needs to be done to make prevention of health problems a priority, the report says.

“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,” said committee chair John D. Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, department of environmental health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.  “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.”

EPA should coordinate with other groups to ensure that public health concerns are considered in the revision and adoption of building codes and standards for ventilation as well as emissions testing protocols, the report says.  The agency also should spearhead research on the impact of climate mitigation efforts on indoor environmental quality and the health and productivity of occupants.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org or http://iom.edu.  A committee roster follows.

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Additional resources:
Report in Brief
Project Website
Full Report