Friday, June 11, 2010

Toxins in Building Materials Again...

“WARNING: This area contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
A familiar sight to Californians, these are the words that appear on signs in countless buildings complying with Proposition 65, requiring posting warnings of exposures to harmful chemicals listed in a state-run database. Architect Tyler Krehlik with Anshen+Allen Architects, was struck by the irony of green buildings still having to post this sign because of unknown effects of possible chemicals in building materials. So Anshen+Allen teamed up with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) to try and determine how they could factor human health into material selection criteria. Read the article here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Are Green Buildings Healthy Buildings?

As sociologists interested in the ways green communities and green buildings benefit health, we tend to focus on the benefits most obvious to us as sociologists: Things like access to green space and nature, sharing resources, community-mindedness and localism. We've been less focused on the nuts and bolts of the buildings themselves, their materials and inner-workings. To be honest, we've probably been overly naive in our assumptions that green buildings themselves must be good for health: if they're good for the health of the environment, they must be good for human health, right?

Well, maybe not.

A new report from Environment and Human Health, Inc. criticizes LEED and other green building certification programs for failing to include health as an important part of what it means to be green. Thousands of different chemicals, many of them known to be hazards to human health, become components of building materials and LEED does little to ensure that they are kept out. What's worse, by virtue of their energy efficiency, LEED-certified buildings that include dangerous chemicals in their building materials may actually increase our exposure to toxins. One of the factors that makes green buildings green is the fact that they have tighter envelopes compared to other buildings and this may create intensified exposures to toxins if they are present in building materials. The report also criticizes LEED for failing to include strong assurances of safe, quality drinking water and for not restricting the use of pesticides in landscaping or ensuring that they don't seep into groundwater.

The reports strongest critique, however, is reserved for the US federal government which has failed to protect public health through strong testing and regulation of chemicals used in everyday life.
Hazardous chemicals have become components of LEED-certified indoor environments primarily due to the failures of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and EPA’s neglect of the problem. Congress has provided EPA with limited authority to require testing of likely hazardous chemicals in building products. Thus new products may incorporate tens of thousands of untested chemicals with no government oversight.

The report ends with recommendations for improving LEED by giving more weight to those aspects of buildings that effect health.