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Study: LEED Homes are Not Necessarily Less Toxic

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posted on Jun, 14 2010 @ 02:29 PM
In a new study by Environment and Human Health, Inc. says that the current LEED system provides a false sense of security regarding the health and safety of its certified homes. A study conducted by the Connecticut based health-research non-profit released their results in LEED Certification: Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health, "The purpose of this report is to evaluate the LEED program's standards that many assume protect human health from environmental hazards within the built environment." Here are the major points of the study and the debate that ensued:

- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines "green building" as "the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle, from site selection to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction."

- Many building programs now exist to encourage energy efficiency and environmental responsibility. The most prominent and successful include the LEED program sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, and the U.S. EPA's ENERGY STAR for Buildings program. All have similar objectives and employ similar criteria to evaluate building performance.

- LEED for new construction evaluates projects, and assigns points or scores for categories such as energy efficiency, site renovation, innovative design, efficient waste management, use of recycled materials, access to public transit, and use of building materials deemed to be environmentally responsible. Development projects voluntarily submit building details, and LEED staff award certificates according to accumulated points for "platinum," "gold," or "silver" performance
- Elements of the built environment that potentially affect human health include the location of buildings, waste management, building materials, infrastructure to deliver air and water, furnishings, and appliances that burn fuels indoors. All of these elements are considered in this assessment of the growing conflict between green building development standards and human health.

- Much of this critique is devoted to the LEED program's failure to place enough emphasis on the indoor air in the built environment. Building materials are known to include many well-recognized toxic substances, including metals, adhesives, plastics, solvents, flame retardants, sealants and biocides.

The major point of this study is that, “A building may receive “platinum,” or the highest ranking in the LEED system, without any points being awarded in the category intended to protect human health.” The LEED program for “new construction and renovation” considers human health within its “indoor environmental quality”category, which is allotted 15 points out of a possible total point score of 110. Thus, human health concerns constitute only 13.6 percent of the total possible award.

The alarming trend that the study finds is that the final building structure comprises thousands of these chemicals, and many materials “off-gas”—or become airborne—and are inhaled by occupants. Chemicals often employed include respiratory stressors, neurotoxins, carcinogens, reproductive hazards, hormone mimics and developmental toxins. “Specifically, some of these chemicals include phthalates (used in floor and wall coverings), short-chain chlorinated paraffins (used in flame retardants), and per?uorinated chemicals (used in carpets and upholstery).” said Cambria Bold, writer for Re-Nest.

Another eye opening way LEED certification fails to address one of the most important components of sustainable living. Although Bold contends that LEED certification is primarily used to measure energy-efficiency, so it’s a no surprise; I do think that human health should place a higher value than 13.6% on the LEED scale.


Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (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.
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

LEED addresses both commercial and residential building types. It works throughout the building lifecycle – design and construction, operations and maintenance, tenant fitout, and significant retrofit. And LEED for Neighborhood Development extends the benefits of LEED beyond the building footprint into the neighborhood it serves.[1]

Since its inception in 1998, U.S. Green Building council(citation LEED for existing buildings v2.0 reference guide page pg 11) has grown to encompass more than 14,000 projects in the United States and 30 countries covering 1.062 billion square feet (99 km²) of development area.[2] The hallmark of LEED is that it is an open and transparent process where the technical criteria proposed by USGBC members are publicly reviewed for approval by the almost 20,000 member organizations that currently constitute the USGBC.

The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) was established by USGBC to provide a series of exams to allow individuals to become accredited for their knowledge of the LEED rating system. This is recognized through either the LEED Accredited Professional(LEED AP) or LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) designation. GBCI also provides third-party certification for projects pursuing LEED.


When my wife and I built our home about 4 years ago, we decided to go with a little less space than we originally wanted, building the entire home to LEED standards.

While I still feel like it was the best decision, I can't help but being a little disappointed if this study is correct, and I have no reason to doubt that it is. When you spend 30% more than what you intended, ending up with a smaller product, who wouldn't be?


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