16 Aug 2010: Opinion

LEED Building Standards
Fail to Protect Human Health

LEED certification has emerged as the green standard of approval for new buildings in the United States. But the criteria used for determining the ratings largely ignore factors relating to human health, particularly the use of potentially toxic building materials.

by john wargo

The LEED program — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is playing an increasingly important role in the drive to make buildings in the United States greener and more energy efficient. LEED is now the most prominent and widely adopted green building certification program in the country, with architects and developers striving to earn LEED’s coveted platinum or gold rating, and an increasing number of local, state, and federal regulations beginning to incorporate LEED standards into official building codes.

But LEED — sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, an industry group — has a glaring and little-known drawback: It places scant emphasis on factors relating to human health, even as the largely unregulated use of potentially toxic building materials continues to expand. One of LEED’s major accomplishments — saving energy by making buildings more airtight — has had the paradoxical effect of more effectively trapping the gases emitted by the unprecedented number of chemicals used in today’s building materials and furnishings. Yet, as the threat from indoor air pollution grows, LEED puts almost no weight on human health factors in deciding whether a building meets its environmental and social goals.

I was lead author of a report on this issue that was released in May, and I recently met with Green Building Council executives, who made it clear that LEED’s management is deeply committed to an energy efficient future. Yet it also was apparent that the certification system is unlikely to soon focus on health with respect to hazardous chemicals.

At this point, LEED, a voluntary set of standards created by architects, engineers and builders, can award its highest level of certification —
The job of setting standards for new construction should not be left to a private-sector organization.
platinum — to a structure that earns no credits for air quality. In practice, the average LEED-certified building achieves only 6 percent of its total points for “indoor environmental quality,” the category most closely tied to health, although some of these credits are often given for lighting and thermal comfort rather than assurance of reduced exposure to dangerous substances.

This fact points up a serious flaw in the program: The job of setting standards for new construction — particularly health standards — should not be left to a private-sector organization dominated by members who profit from the sale of goods and services to the building sector.

The potential threats to human health — data suggest that increased chemical exposure in indoor environments may be one reason behind a rapid rise in childhood asthma, for example — require more aggressive action, primarily from the federal government. Because the public interest in healthy, energy-efficient, and environmentally safe buildings is enormous — and well beyond the capacity, financial interests, and willingness of the building industry to manage — the nation needs a comprehensive federal law to control the chemical content of the built environment. LEED is simply not up to the job.

Toxics in Buildings

In 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began testing human tissue samples to detect the presence of environmental contaminants. CDC scientists reported that most individuals carry a mixture of metals, plastic polymers, pesticides, solvents, fire retardants, and waterproofing agents, all commonly present in modern buildings. Children often carry higher concentrations than adults.

Many of the chemical ingredients in these building materials are well known to be hazardous to human health. Some are respiratory stressors, neurotoxins, hormone mimics, carcinogens, reproductive hazards, or developmental toxins. Thousands of synthetic and natural chemicals make up modern buildings, and many materials and products “off-gas” and can be inhaled by occupants. Others may erode from metal or plastic water pipes and end up in a glass of water.

The widespread use of such chemicals comes at a time when Americans spend, on average, 90 percent of their time indoors or in vehicles. American children — who increasingly forsake outdoor recreation to occupy themselves for more than seven hours a day with electronic media — spend an astonishing 97 percent of their lives indoors or in cars, according to a recent survey.

In December 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of chemicals that “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment.” The EPA list includes four classes of
Programs such as LEED place relatively little emphasis on indoor air quality.
chemicals widely used in the building industry and approved for use by the LEED rating system. These chemicals include phthalates (used as softeners in flexible vinyl products, such as floor and wall coverings); short-chain chlorinated paraffins (used in plastics); PBDEs (used as flame retardants in textiles, plastics, and wire insulation); and perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA (used for non-stick cookware and stain resistant materials). Many LEED-certified buildings have been constructed using some of these compounds.

Plastics pose a special problem, as they now comprise nearly 70 percent of the synthetic chemical industry in the United States. More than 100 billion pounds of resins are produced each year, forming many different building materials, including window and door casings, furnishings, electrical wiring, piping, insulation, water and waste conduits, floor coverings, paints, appliances, countertops, lighting fixtures, and electronics.

Hazardous chemicals have become components of LEED-certified indoor environments primarily due to the failures of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and EPA’s neglect of the problem. Congress has given the EPA limited authority to require testing of likely hazardous chemicals in building products. Among nearly 80,000 chemicals in commerce, EPA has required toxicity testing of only 200 in nearly 25 years. These test results led EPA to ban or phase out only five chemicals. The overwhelming majority of chemicals in buildings remain untested, meaning that new products may incorporate tens of thousands of untested chemicals with no government oversight. Since TSCA places the burden of proof of hazard on EPA, nearly all chemicals in building materials have escaped federal testing and regulation.

Many sectors of the economy, including pharmaceuticals and pesticides, are highly regulated by the federal government to protect public health. But the building sector — which now produces $1.25 trillion in annual revenues, roughly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product in 2009 — has escaped such federal control. The lack of government regulation is explained, in part, by the building industry’s enormous financial power, but also by its recent success in creating green building and development standards that give the impression of environmental responsibility and protection of human health.

In fact, programs such as LEED place relatively little emphasis on indoor air quality and the impact of “off-gassing” of chemicals on the health of a building’s occupants.

The impetus for the creation of the LEED program was the acknowledgment that more than 100 million buildings in the U.S. consume 76 percent of the of the nation’s electricity. The U.S. Green Building Council — a private organization with nearly 19,000 members, including developers, engineers, architects, and building materials manufacturers — understandably created LEED to focus primarily on energy conservation.

The LEED scoring system is weighted heavily toward energy conservation. The largest category of possible credits for new construction encourages energy conservation, either directly via use of renewable technologies — solar panels, geothermal wells, insulation — or indirectly through
Testing of chemicals should be conducted by an independent, government-supervised institute.
demonstrations of reduced water use, proximity to public transit, or use of locally produced materials.

LEED staff evaluate building performance, assign scores (a total of 100 points is possible), and issue certificates based upon the total award to determine whether “platinum,” “gold,” or “silver” standards have been achieved. These designations often create eligibility for income tax credits, property tax reductions, and lower interest loans. And these public subsidies often enhance property value.

LEED has no requirement for post-occupancy air quality monitoring for particulate matter or volatile organic compounds. These are primary threats to health, especially among those with background respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

The effect of many energy-conserving design features and materials is to encourage better sealed and insulated buildings. Tighter structures lower the exchange between indoor and outdoor air unless ventilation is carefully monitored and managed. Since indoor air is often more contaminated by synthetic chemicals than outdoor air, the effect may intensify occupants’ chemical exposures, increasing health risks.

Recently, I worked closely with colleagues at Environment and Human Health, Inc., a non-profit organization comprised of medical doctors, as well as public health and policy experts, to examine these questions. Our report, LEED Certification: Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health, called for a federal law to control the chemical content of the built environment. Its purpose should be to protect human health and environmental quality, to encourage materials recycling, and to reduce waste.

What would key elements of a national healthy building policy include?

New chemicals should be tested to understand their threat to human health before they are allowed to be sold. Existing chemicals should also be
EPA should maintain a national registry of the chemical content of building products and furnishings.
tested, rather than be exempted, as they are under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The burden of proof of safety should rest with chemical and building product manufacturers; it’s now up to EPA to demonstrate significant danger before the agency may regulate chemicals in commerce. The testing itself should be conducted by an independent, government-supervised institute, but paid for by the manufacturers.

A clear environmental safety standard should also be adopted to prevent further development and sale of persistent and bio-accumulating compounds. Priority should be given to test and eliminate those compounds found in human tissues by the Centers for Disease Control.

The chemical contents of building materials and their country of origin should be identified. Without this knowledge, architects, engineers, and consumers have no hope of avoiding products that could lead to environmental damage or ill health effects.

EPA should maintain a national registry of the chemical content of building products, furnishings, and cleaning products. The registry should also record and update the chemical testing status and recyclability of a product. The agency should create and maintain a single database that identifies chemical toxicity, level of hazard, common sources of exposure, and an assessment of the adequacy of data used to support these classifications.

The government should categorize building products to identify those that contain hazardous compounds; those that have been tested and found to be safe; and those that have been insufficiently tested making a determination of hazard or safety impossible. This database should be freely available on the Internet.

Distinctive “high performance” environmental health standards should be adopted to guide the construction and renovation of schools and surrounding lands. Although LEED has a separate certification system in place for schools, it suffers from the same limited attention to environmental health.


Energy Sleuths in Pursuit
Of the Truly Green Building

Energy Sleuths in Pursuit of the Truly Green Building
The practice of “commissioning,” in which an engineer monitors the efficiency of a building from its design through its initial operation, just may be the most effective strategy for reducing long-term energy usage, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, Richard Conniff writes. So why is it so seldom used?
The federal government should create incentives for companies to research and create new chemicals that meet the health, safety, and environmental standards described above. Funding for “green chemistry” initiatives should be significantly increased and focused on benign substitutes for the most widely used and well-recognized toxic substances.

The federal government should take responsibility for codifying these requirements to protect human health in buildings and communities. EPA is the most logical agency for this assignment given its congressionally mandated purpose to protect human health. The Green Building Council should encourage developers to move beyond minimum federal requirements, though this would require substantial changes in the LEED certification system.

LEED has performed a valuable and significant public service, especially by encouraging designs and technologies that conserve energy. The Green Building Council has become a potent force in shaping the future of the building industry. The program, however, does not offer sufficient protection to human health, nor should it be expected to do so, given its limited legal authority, expertise, and financial capacity. It’s time to ensure through federal law that green buildings become healthy buildings.

POSTED ON 16 Aug 2010 IN Biodiversity Climate Forests Policy & Politics Pollution & Health Science & Technology Urbanization North America North America 


It feels like you're going after a red herring here. LEED is almost entirely focused on resource conservation and gives little impression that it would set public health standards. I also feel that you've been misleading about the fact that there are those few points that deal with indoor air quality. Most importantly, there are points for using products that do not off gas and for using green cleaning supplies. Also, the few LEED facilities I've toured all had sufficient ventilation. (Rather than be airtight, they used technologies like air-to-air heat exchangers to mitigate former ventilation problems.) Heck, I even heard about some under construction LEED labs that were going to have air quality sensors in their hoods to limit ventilation when it was unnecessary. (Of course, lab hoods are most likely required by laws for health reasons.)

Nonetheless, I feel that more pressure should be applied through the government. The problem isn't the industry (since they're there to make money and that's what LEED can help them do). It is the duty of the government to protect its people (and thus their health). We need to endorse the precautionary principle, much like the EU has done (and without catastrophic industrial collapse). While we can't enact laws and regulations that will kill our industry, we do need to make sure that there is a lot of oversight because the industry is looking out for their own interests, not ours. (And that's what we should expect.)

Posted by on 16 Aug 2010

It's interesting that this was already reported on back in June in a much more judicious manner no less. This article is considerably one sided. Here's a note from a previous article posted by Scott Horst - Senior Vice President, LEED U.S. Green Building Council

Please see his link


Those who are truly interested in this important subject should read that article.

LEED is an action plan for environmental work through buildings and neighborhoods. It is not a report or even a statement of a perfect world. It is a way to define what green means. The point I made with the reporter -- which clearly was not heard -- was that if LEED were only a utopian vision then it would not be real. This is because utopia does not exist. Instead LEED is constantly updating and moving the market, pushing it and incentivizing it to be better. Always better.

It is interesting to note that LEED Platinum projects to date achieve 78.5 percent of all
Indoor Environmental Quality credits. And there are no Platinium projects that have achieved zero Indoor Environmental Quality Credits.

Scot Horst
Senior Vice President, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

Posted by Kevin on 16 Aug 2010

While I ardently concur that we need more public and environmental health protections, I question the proposed methodology / approach for achieving these commendable goals. Creation of a free (and freely accessible) registry of environmentally detrimental materials and compounds used in the manufacture and processing of ALL consumer products is most assuredly a critical first step.

However, reliance on government funding for subsidies to incentivize environmentally responsible manufacturing practices will never solve this problem - at least not while our society continues to use a purely capitalistic economic model, one without regard for environmental "externalities". Have you (collective audience) viewed Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff" or reviewed the efficacy of government in dealing with the "environmental externalities" of Love Canal – would it be conceivable to incorporate these messages into a "Consumer Economics 101" class for all buyers & manufacturers of consumer goods?

Perhaps a more expedient and, at least IMO, effective approach would be to formulate and adopt manufacturers' responsibility legislation whereby every product sold would include an environmental content and (embodied) life cycle impact label. In addition, manufacturers should be held responsible for the full life-cycle (source to sunset) of every product produced and sold – as well as the packaging and transport used therein. Envision a full-society-scale version of the EU’s manufacturer’s take-back program for consumer electronics.

This labeling approach would allow consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and to fully exercise their "voting" rights. Also, a source-to-sunset manufacturers’ responsibility provision shifts the onus for dealing with environmental externalities (and end-of-useful-life re-sourcing) from the consumer to the producer and ostensibly - by virtue of "supply and demand" economics, not to mention our finite planet's limited resources - would result in a fairly rapid transformation of manufacturing practices and improved consumer health with little or no adverse economic impact on taxpayers or consumers.

Posted by D. A. Maloskey, PE on 16 Aug 2010

I see the Greenguard Environmental Institute has a building certification program. It would be great if this could be explored in a follow up article.


Posted by Carter Hartz on 17 Aug 2010

I wonder about this sort article from a philosophical point of view: On the one hand it's obviously alarmist. LEED's explicit purpose has never been human health. It has always been about minimizing resource use and carbon footprint, and it's certification program is increasingly effective in accomplishing its goals. To announce that it "fails" to account for human health is like making the exposé that the Metropolitan Opera is not satisfying the popular music tastes of teenagers. The effect of such an article on the informed reader is to make him/her suspect that the author is posturing and using language to attract attention to himself and, perhaps, to a non-issue.

Maybe there is need a for some architecture/design body to be carrying the human health flag. Presumably there are less inflammatory ways of promoting this idea than attacking a body that has never adopted that purpose. But do less inflammatory approaches get the kind of attention that get people scrambling to make improvements? Is it possible that an article like this, even if unfair, is necessary to incite change? Perhaps so, though I hope not. It doesn't seem intellectually honest to set up LEED as failing in an field where it's never claimed to do business.

Posted by Mike on 17 Aug 2010

In this article Wargo puts the LEED spin on it to gain traction and interest for his real point which is that there needs to be regulatory standards for the toxicity of building materials… which I have no doubt the USGBC would support and include in their Indoor Environmental Quality Credit requirements if they existed. However, it is difficult if not impossible, for a non-profit, voluntary organization to set requirements for something that has no law or regulatory Standard to comply with and use as a set precedent or baseline.

LEED bashing just waters down the real argument, and as an advisor to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention perhaps Mr. Wargo should use his position to affect change, create new regulatory standards and in doing so, create the opportunity for the USGBC and LEED to call out a set of Standards for compliance. Perhaps do a little bashing of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; isn't it their job to be regulating the toxicity level of products, well, unless they come from China that is?

CPSC mission: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children.

LEED Mission:LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

The author is perpetuating a misperception of what defines a LEED building, while concomitantly creating a blatant misdirection of accountability, too bad.

Posted by Missy Tancredi on 17 Aug 2010

The point Wargo is making is that a "green" building should be about more than just energy efficiency -- it should deal with broader issues like sustainability and environmental health as well. I think the public would expect that, and if the current LEED standards don't address that, they should.

Posted by Anthony Ruffalo on 17 Aug 2010

Just for clarity's sake, LEED is not a standard. It is a rating system, not unlike the vast number of other rating systems out there.

If you're looking for a standard, I would encourage the author to investigate the International Green Construction Code to see where it stands on this issue. (It is currently going through it's 1st round of public hearings.) If it is silent, then respectfully submit a public comment (or two or ten) for the next round of hearings.

Then you'll have a chance of affecting significant change on this important health and safety issue.

Posted by Mike Collignon on 19 Aug 2010

Yes, the point here is that it may be misleading to call these standards "Green Building" standards if they do not address indoor environmental health and quality. I've often wondered about the paradox of airtight energy efficiency: how do you improve ventillation if the goal is to keep all outside air out? There also needs to be a reduction in the amount of toxic chemicals used in materials. That is why I only use zero VOC paints. LEED would do well to expand the scope of their standards by incorporating material toxicity ratings. A building cannot be truly green if it is comprised of toxic chemicals. Full disclosure of chemical composition will also go a long way toward helping consumers make greener choices.

Posted by Ross Geredien on 19 Aug 2010

It is true that the tighter the house, the greater the risk that occupants are exposed to the off-gassing of the building materials used to construct the house. But if one adopts the Passive House Institute's approach to construction and uses ERVs to ensure indoor air quality (drawing outdoor air in), the problem is alleviated. It doesn't hurt that the Passive House standard virtually eliminates the need for mechanical heating and cooling as well. And when you build according to the PH standard you usually more than meet the LEED Platinum standard.

Posted by Rob Kugler on 19 Aug 2010

Ross -

Regarding "airtight energy efficiency": the idea is not to keep all outside air out. The idea is to keep air from leaking into or out of the building around small openings near windows, doors, etc. High air leakage rates waste energy because conditioned air is just blowing outside, or hot (or cold) air is entering the occupied spaces of the building and working against the conditioned air.

Ventilation is supplied by drawing air into the building through the HVAC system (where it gets
filtered and conditioned). Many "airtight" high-performance buildings are ventilated with 100%
outside air (which means that no air is recirculated through the building - it's "once-through").

Posted by james on 19 Aug 2010

One difficulty with LEED is that it only adds points, not take ANY away. It is also overly dependent on products - and not the environment at large.

My office is consulting with architects on several projects that have been placed in the LEED certification process.

One project removes toxic soil from the site and sends it (presumably by rail and presumably hundreds of miles away) to a landfill in someone else's backyard. There is adequate land area on the existing brownfield (which is not being remediated) to quarantine the toxic soil on site.

Another project was unnecessarily planned in a way that requires blasting hundreds of tons of bedrock ledge - and a remnant old woodland preserved atop it - although the site is large enough for alternate building locations with no ledge.

If there were DEMERITS as well as credits, a better system would emerge. Can a LEED gold project actually send toxic soil that could be stored onsite to a location in another state? That doesn't seem like a fully credible environmental leadership to me.

Posted by Ron on 19 Aug 2010

As a building product manufacturer, Corporate member of the USGBC and a LEED AP+, I, too, want to see LEED pick up the cause for safer building materials.

What good will it have been to have saved energy but not people?

The USGBC continues to do an extraordinary work. Unprecedented and essential sustainability.

Wanting to add healthy building products onto that effective and successful machine is natural; we always ask more of the high achievers.

Others have been workng on the problem. The Green Guide for Health Care and organizations like Practice Greenhealth, Healthy Building Network, Collaborative for High Performance Schools and Clean Production's Business/NGO for Safer Chemicals are all working/advocating for this issue.

The Green Guide for Healthcare asks that we, "Imagine: Cancer treatment centers built without materials linked to cancer; Pediatric clinics free of chemicals that trigger asthma."

A clear and supportive endorsement (in the absence of being "in" LEED) from the USGBC of the need to protect people from the effect of hazardous chemicals in building materials would set in motion the free market forces for accelerating change. Although this is implicitly evident by the very nature of the USGBC work, some things just need to be explicit.

It's not just about off-gassing of hazardous chemicals; it's about eliminating chemicals of concern such as PBTs and carcinogens.

The Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition, its members and others, are lobbying for, and working to educate all us as to the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Their publication, The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, is the most concisely informative piece I've read; supported by 3 pages of endnotes. www.SaferChemicals.org

Government control or government support? Control through TSCA Reform + support through enforcing existing Executive Orders and federal policies requiring federal agencies use established environmentally preferable purchasing. See the EPA's Final Guidance on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, August 20, 1999. (Yes, "1999".)

While TSCA Reform is debated in the Senate & House, and while the USGBC remains implict, let's thank Mr. Wargo for helping keep this issue in full view and open debate.

Posted by Howard Williams on 20 Aug 2010

The article is pretty clear as to its criticism to the LEED rating system. To call it misleading means that it was not read by responders.

As we make fixes to our home over the years, many times we have not done remodeling simply because better materials than those on our original 1927 bungalow are not available, specially in terms of off-gassing toxins. Looking at all the PVC in modern construction, we
consider ourselves lucky that our home is old enough to have skipped modern failed techniques and cheap toxic materials.

I agree with a responder that demerits are an excellent idea. I have seen too many supposedly green buildings with green features that are merely cosmetic whereas poison is hidden under the carpet, so to speak.

We visited the Smart House at the Museum of Science and Industry and was told that the house was designed up to European standards because LEED was not as challenging.

LEED has much to improve, if anything as to not become irrelevant to those making rational

Posted by Julieta Aguilera on 21 Aug 2010

While I agree that LEED should expand its coverage of indoor air quality issues of materials this article contains a number of serious inaccuracies that cause serious concern for its validity. Human health is in fact addressed in very significant ways in LEED. The article shows extreme bias that taints the real facts.

1. LEED is not an industry organization. Members cross a broad range of groups from schools, governmental agencies, NGO's, designers, construction companies, vendors, manufacturers and others. The largest single group is designers. This group and many of the others have a huge stake in producing excellent, healthy buildings that enhance occupant and community well-being.

2. The percentage of LEED credits directly attributed to indoor environmental quality In LEED-NC is not 6 it is 13.6% (15 out of 110 possible). Of those 9, or 8.2% of the total are all about air quality and interior occupant well-being both during and after construction is complete (post-occupancy). The other 4 of the IAQ credits deal indirectly with occupant well-being in the form of thermal comfort, daylighting and views; which have shown significant effect on occupant well-being and performance. 2 or 3 (depending on building type) of the items addressed in Indoor Environmental Quality include prerequisites (metrics that absolutely must be accomplished to achieve LEED certification at any level) and are not rewarded with credits even though they must be included. Those are 1. To exceed the standards for ventilation set forth in ASHRAE Std. 62.1-2007 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality; 2. to prevent or minimize occupant exposure to tobacco smoke and; 3. to assure that adequate acoustic control is provided in schools so that students can actually hear what is being taught.

In addition there are 10 potential Innovation Credits that recognize exemplary and/or innovative performance. Credits can be received for low mercury lighting, green cleaning policies and other actions that contribute to occupant well being.

3. LEED does not encourage buildings that are built too tight. LEED encourages quality ventilation and quality air filtration. The prerequisite mentioned above helps assure that buildings perform better than the most widely recognized ventilation standard in the country. Another credit is aimed at rewarding buildings that exceed this by 30% or more. And 4 credits are given for using adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, flooring and engineered wood products that minimize off gassing of harmful chemicals. Reward is also given from minimizing exposure to cleaning and other hazardous chemicals and also particulate from outside soil and air.

LEED is under a continual revision process. Major updates are typically made every three years after a rigorous consensus process. The last major revisions were made in 2009 and included new weightings for credits. In the past every credit was awarded one point. Now some are awarded up to 6 points based on the consensus process. Weightings will continue to change.

Granted I and many others would like to see a more comprehensive approach to minimizing occupant exposure to harmful chemicals. The USGBC has been struggling with how best to do this for several years. PVC is one of the products that has been under serious discussion. But there are many other potential candidates. A green building rating system called the Living Building Challenge prohibits the use of 16 Chemicals on the Stockholm Convention's Red List. These include for instance lead, PVC and mercury (all above certain levels) that LEED does not address...yet.

LEED has done more to transform the building industry in positive, healthy ways than anything in the last 10 years or so since its creation. Let's work to make it better in the spirit of recognizing what it is and what it yet can be.

Posted by Ralph Bicknese on 25 Aug 2010

I think that there is a lack of real LEED Knowledge by the author. BREEAM and its cronies (GreenGlobes, GreenStar, HKBeam,...) by the Commonwealth Government and SBTools and its cronies (DNGB, HQE, CASBEE, ITHACA, VERDE, PROFILE,....) by the bureaucrats association iiSBE are focused on energy effciency with little real approach to human wellbeing and better living/working conditions. Government & bureaucrats tools like Breeam and SBtools are in fact tools to impose policies and actions toward the built environment industry while LEED is a market transformation industry by the industry itself. Is the industry the only one that is making progress to a built environment transformation, governments are always the followers.
Posted by Aurelio. on 13 Sep 2010

Thank you John Wargo for the article and to everyone taking time to provide thoughtful commentary. As an environmental health and indoor air quality professional now moving into the realm of sustainable building, the ideas and perspectives expressed here have been enlightening.

Posted by Ella Rae on 10 Oct 2010

LEED should address this issue first and foremost... The whole idea of sustainability, green design and so on, is to minimize the destruction of the planet for future generations.

Posted by scott on 06 Nov 2010

I was surprised to see that you didn't mention coal ash, a highly toxic waste byproduct of coal combustion that is being put in walls of LEED certified buildings.

Posted by Sam Jewler on 29 Nov 2010

Thank you for what's been written here. I've been increasingly concerned as a consumer how "green" terminology and standards in the U.S. focus on energy to the near exclusion of health issues.

Immediately after reading this I came across a magazine article entitled "The World's First Living Buildings." Apparently the Living Building Institute has set its own standards giving us examples of what truly green construction can look like. According to the article, these building projects "must generate all of their own energy using clean, renewable resources; capture and treat all of their own water through ecologically sound techniques; contain only nontoxic, appropriately sourced materials; and operate efficiently and for maximum beauty. In addition, performance must be proven over the course of at least twelve consecutive months before being eligible for certification."

This is from Yes Magazine, a non-profit publication that features amazing if sometimes off-beat solutions to many of society's most pressing problems. I hope it will be of interest.


Posted by Ann on 29 Nov 2010

I was wondering if things have changed since this article. I am moving into a new LEED certified building next month. I have asthma and two children. The building is next to the entrance of the 5 freeway. This a new place and affordable for my family, but I do not want to put them in a health risk. I need advice please. Right now, I am moving from my current residence because I am 5 feet away from a lattice tower which is a cell site for AT & T. I do not want to move to another health hazard. If I move into a LEED building, will this help lessen the pollution and chemicals? Is this dangerous. Please email me if you have any more information. asylamsd@yahoo.com or respond to this post if you see it. Thank You

Posted by lisa on 06 Dec 2011

Comments have been closed on this feature.
John Wargo is professor of environmental policy, risk analysis, and political science at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, chairs the Environmental Studies Major at Yale College, and is an advisor to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His latest book is Green Intelligence: Creating Environments That Protect Human Health. In a previous article for Yale Environment 360, he explained why he believes the U.S. needs a comprehensive plastics control law.



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Putting a price on carbon is an idea whose time has come, with even Big Oil signaling it may drop its long-standing opposition to a carbon tax. But the question is, has it come too late?

Floating Solar: A Win-Win for
Drought-Stricken Lakes in U.S.

by philip warburg
Floating solar panel arrays are increasingly being deployed in places as diverse as Brazil and Japan. One prime spot for these “floatovoltaic” projects could be the sunbaked U.S. Southwest, where they could produce clean energy and prevent evaporation in major man-made reservoirs.

Point/Counterpoint: Should
Green Critics Reassess Ethanol?

by timothy e. wirth and c. boyden gray
Former U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth and former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray argue that environmental criticisms of corn ethanol are unwarranted and that the amount in gasoline should be increased. In rebuttal, economist C. Ford Runge counters that any revisionist view of ethanol ignores its negative impacts on the environment and the food supply.

The Case Against More Ethanol:
It's Simply Bad for Environment

by c. ford runge
The revisionist effort to increase the percentage of ethanol blended with U.S. gasoline continues to ignore the major environmental impacts of growing corn for fuel and how it inevitably leads to higher prices for this staple food crop. It remains a bad idea whose time has passed.

How Satellites and Big Data
Can Help to Save the Oceans

by douglas mccauley
With new marine protected areas and an emerging U.N. treaty, global ocean conservation efforts are on the verge of a major advance. But to enforce these ambitious initiatives, new satellite-based technologies and newly available online data must be harnessed.

Why Supreme Court’s Action
Creates Opportunity on Climate

by david victor
The U.S. Supreme Court order blocking the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan may have a silver lining: It provides an opportunity for the U.S. to show other nations it has a flexible, multi-faceted approach to cutting emissions.

With Court Action, Obama’s
Climate Policies in Jeopardy

by michael b. gerrard
The U.S. Supreme Court order blocking President Obama’s plan to cut emissions from coal-burning power plants is an unprecedented step and one of the most environmentally harmful decisions ever made by the nation’s highest court.

Beyond the Oregon Protests:
The Search for Common Ground

by nancy langston
Thrust into the spotlight by a group of anti-government militants as a place of confrontation, the Malheur wildlife refuge is actually a highly successful example of a new collaboration in the West between local residents and the federal government.

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An indigenous tribe’s deadly fight to save its ancestral land in the Amazon rainforest from logging.
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Residents of the Chocó Rainforest in Ecuador are choosing to plant cacao over logging in an effort to slow deforestation.
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Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land.
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