Thursday, May 7th, 2020 by Marco Campos
Conventional homes and buildings create significant risks to health, greatly increase health-related financial costs for individuals and businesses, and add a large burden to the health care system overall. Unfortunately, these risks and burdens are so common that they are routinely ignored. Now as interest is growing in zero energy homes and buildings as a way of reducing carbon emission, we have a unique opportunity to reduce the negative health impacts inherent in existing homes and businesses.
The risks of indoor air pollution are inextricably intertwined with outdoor pollution, which infiltrates and pollutes our indoor air. At the same time, toxic indoor air leaks out of and is expelled from, our homes and buildings into the outdoor environment. It is currently a lose-lose proposition for our health and the environment. Zero energy homes and buildings can play an important role in turning this situation around.
It is well known that outdoor air pollution puts our health at risk and represents a major cost to society. Outside air pollutants, especially ozone and particular matter, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), have been linked to increased rates of premature death, a variety of respiratory disorders including asthma ( affecting 9% of children in the U.S.), wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, developmental and reproductive issues, lung cancer, susceptibility to infection, and heart disease. It is also a risk factor for high blood pressure, diabetes, and attention disorders. Forty-one percent of people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particulate pollution – levels that may be “too dangerous to breathe.”
Even at low concentrations, air pollutants can affect our health. According to a study at the University of British Columbia, “Air pollution is the 4th highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for the disease.” A University of Chicago study has found that “fossil fuel-driven particulate air pollution cuts global average life expectancy by 1.8 years per person.” Another threat from outside the house is radon. This naturally-occurring, radioactive gas can seep into homes from the soil below. It is the largest cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and further increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
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