Thirty remodeled “green” public housing units in Boston were each found to have at least one toxic chemical — including concentrations of formaldehyde that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cancer-based screening level — in the air both before and after renovation, according to a new study by Silent Spring Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and colleagues. The findings could lead to tighter green building standards and healthier housing, especially for low-income communities.

The study was published online Sept. 12, 2017, in the journal Environment International.

The researchers collected air and dust samples from inside the newly-renovated, eco-friendly subsidized housing units. As a result, they now have a better idea of which chemicals are from building materials, and which are from personal items people bring into their homes — such as antimicrobials, plastics, fragrances, and items with flame retardants.

“Synthetic chemicals are ubiquitous in modern life,” said co-author Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at Harvard Chan School, in a Sept. 19, 2017 Reuters Health article. “They’re in new housing, old housing, green housing, conventional housing and high- and low-income housing.”

In a press release he said, “Many factors shape environmental exposures for low-income families living in multifamily housing. These families are also burdened with higher rates of asthma and other diseases linked with environmental contaminants. This study helps to shed light on the factors that shape these exposures.”

“By honing in on the sources of indoor air pollutants, we can develop better strategies for reducing our everyday exposures. And hopefully, this will encourage manufacturers to invest in designing healthier building materials,” said lead author Robin Dodson, research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute and a visiting scientist in Harvard Chan School’s Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program.

Read the Reuters Health article: Energy-efficient green buildings may emit hazardous chemicals

Read the Silent Spring Institute’s press release: Air quality in “green” housing affected by toxic chemicals in building materials

‘Green’ buildings appear to boost health of low-income residents (Harvard Chan School news)

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