The first LEED Platinum low-income housing complex in San Diego, US by Wakeland Housing & Development Corporation.

8 July 2014 — The health problems of public housing residents who moved into green buildings improved markedly, a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has found.

The study, Indoor Air Quality in Green vs. Conventional Multi-Family Low-Income Housing, found that residents moving into buildings with green design features reported 47 per cent fewer “sick building syndrome” symptoms such as headaches and itchy or burning eyes, which are commonly linked to indoor air pollution.

Study authors Gary Adamkiewicz, Meryl Colton and colleagues said indoor air quality was an important predictor of health, especially among low-income populations. And with 65 per cent of the average American’s time spent at home, it was important to have a home free of indoor air pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, tobacco smoke and other compounds, which can exacerbate respiratory problems such as asthma or even lead to cancer.

In low-income communities, poorly maintained housing and locations close to industrial zones can lead to indoor air quality that is worse that standard housing.

Few studies have measured how green building standards relate to health outcomes, however an opportunity arose for Adamkiewicz’s team in 2011 when the Boston Housing Authority began redeveloping several public housing sites using green design features as part of its efforts to improve housing conditions for its low-income residents. Upgrades included switching from gas to electric stoves and prohibiting indoor smoking.

In these buildings, the researchers found significantly lower levels of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and nicotine than in similar older buildings, with residents reporting 47 per cent fewer symptoms associated with poor indoor air quality.

“This work builds on more than 10 years of work in public housing and highlights an important opportunity to improve health in low-income communities on a large scale,” the researchers said.

Funding was provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.