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Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health


Table of Contents

Amid the considerable research on how climate change may affect public health, one subject has received relatively little attention—the impact of climate change on indoor environments. As the world’s climate changes, buildings that were designed to operate under the “old” climatic conditions may not function well under the “new”—affecting the health of those who live, work, study, or play in them.
Against this backdrop, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to summarize the current state of scientific understanding of the effects of climate change on indoor air and public health and to offer priorities for action.

An IOM committee chaired by Dr. John D. Spengler, Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment, concluded that climate change influences indoor environmental quality, warranting attention and action. This conclusion is based on three key findings:

  • Poor indoor environmental quality is creating health problems today and impairs the ability of occupants to work and learn.
  • Climate change may worsen existing indoor environmental problems and introduce new problems.
  • There are opportunities to improve public health while mitigating or adapting to alterations in indoor environmental quality induced by climate change.

In this report, the IOM outlines the major climate-induced indoor environmental problems and recommends ways to reduce the health effects these problems cause. The IOM also recommends a number of specific actions for the EPA to take, in cooperation with other government organizations and the private sector.

With permission, we've provided the executive summary of the report below. Download the full report from the Institute of Medicine website.

Reprinted with permission from Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health (2011), by the National Academy of Sciences, courtesy of the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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