During Indoor Air 2011 there was a lot of buzz about this report which came out halfway through the meeting. The full title is “Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health (2011)”.
This 246-page report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Acadamies goes into great detail about the various ways that climate change may have a negative health impact within the build environment. Some of it is more obvious, such as warmer temperatures facilitating the spread of pathogens.
But there was one topic I wanted to highlight in particular because I heard it mentioned several times at the meeting and that’s the use of “green” building materials. Obviously these materials have a lot of benefits in terms of energy efficiency, carbon footprint of materials (since concrete has a massive carbon footprint), etc.
However, many of these natural materials such as hemp, hay bales, adobe, etc. have not been well-studied with respect to microbiology. It seems likely that these materials will harbor a totally different microbiota than say concrete and vinyl. I heard a few people at the meeting express concern about the fact that these materials have accessible carbohydrates that could provide energy for microbial communities, possibly with detrimental effects on the building itself or on human health.
The report further brings up the issue that a very well-sealed and insulated building (e.g. more energy efficient) may have less airflow than a “leaky” building… and that this may negatively impact air quality.
Green buildings are here to stay and will be important in the fight against climate change. But it sounds like there could be more effort directed at understanding the tradeoffs involved.