Renewable Energy: The Air We Breathe

The relationship between the chemical content of building materials and occupant health is gaining renewed attention. This installment of "Renewable Energy" shifts its focus from alternative power to conversations about "chemicals of concern."
The relationship between the chemical content of building materials and occupant health is gaining renewed attention. This installment of "Renewable Energy" shifts its focus from alternative power to conversations about "chemicals of concern."

Renewable Energy: The Air We Breathe

Renewable Energy: The Air We Breathe

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the September 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager 

Over the past decade, public concern about healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) has prompted many facility managers (fms) to pay more attention to this aspect of the interiors they oversee. These efforts manifest themselves in the cleaning products, interior surfaces, and building materials chosen for maintenance as well as for new construction and renovation projects.  

Most recently, several developments are bringing this topic to the forefront. This past July, the newly formed American High-Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC) joined nearly 30 associations that represent a range of interests in the building and construction industry. The stated mission of the coalition is to “support and promote green building codes, standards, rating systems, and credits that are developed in conformance with full ANSI or ISO-type consensus processes, are data driven, supported by science, and performance based.”

The AHPBC states that it neither endorses nor opposes any particular green building standard. Still, the group appears to be focused on the USGBC’s LEED rating system. The coalition was formed at a time when the USGBC is working on revisions of its rating system. This process will result in LEED v4 (formerly referred to as LEED 2012). Meanwhile, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has been reviewing which green building rating system it will use for new construction of federal buildings as of 2013. The GSA revisits this decision every five years, and LEED is the system that is currently being used.

At a GSA listening session held on the topic this past June, Richard Doyle, president and CEO of the Vinyl Institute, an AHPBC member, stated, “GSA should endorse only green building certification systems that are developed through fully open, balanced, consensus based processes. We believe the process for the development of LEED is flawed: the actual credit development phase is not open, transparent, or available for participation to all interested stakeholders. Without the changes that are needed to give LEED more daylight, GSA should not endorse LEED as part of its recommended federal green building certification system.” 

Of particular interest in public discussions around these developments is Pilot Credit 54: Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern in the LEED v4 draft, which has been introduced as a possible addition to the Materials and Resources section of the rating system. The credit was last updated in March 2012 after a round of public comments. 

The chemicals included in this pilot credit as of March 2012 are listed in the tables below; it should be noted that this information may change after the most recent round of public comments are considered. Beginning October 2, 2012 an updated draft will be made available for another public comment period.  

The stated intent of the credit is “to increase the use of products and materials that disclose chemical ingredient data and reduce the concentrations of chemical contaminants that can damage air quality, human health, productivity, and the environment.”  

In short, the requirements related to the chemicals in the tables seen here are to “use a minimum of 20%, by cost, of at least three building product and material types meeting one of the options below.” There is Option 1: Avoidance (which involves the chemicals listed in Table 1) and Option 2: Additional Avoidance (which corresponds to those listed in Table 2). 

An Existing List To Consider

Meanwhile, global architectural firm Perkins+Will has made available a database containing information on chemicals commonly used in building materials that are “known or suspected to be associated with negative impacts on human and environmental health.” Launched in November 2011, Perkins+Will’s Transparency website houses information on hundreds of chemicals, categorized in three ways (Precautionary, Asthma Triggers & Asthmagens, and Flame Retardants). In 2009, Perkins+Will published a truncated list of these chemicals, but the Transparency site includes additional resources.

So while the LEED revisions continue, fms interested in learning more about the potential impact of the building products they specify may want to visit the Perkins+Will resource. The following list is a cross reference of some of the chemicals currently included in Pilot Credit 54 (those seen in Tables 1 and 2) with chemicals contained in the Transparency database. Listed after each chemical are building products that commonly include these substances, according to the Transparency website.  

It should be noted that not all products on the market in these product categories contain these chemicals. Fms must check with the manufacturers they are considering for their facilities.

  • Lead (flashing/roofing, radiation shielding, solder, electrical cable jacketing)
  • Mercury (batteries, HVAC controls, electrical components, paint, flooring, switches/relays, lamps)
  • Cadmium (batteries, metal alloys, hardware coatings, paints)
  • Hexavalent chromium (chrome plating, chrome chemical production, chromium pigments for paints/textiles, wood preservation, leather tanning, anti-corrosion coatings)
  • Chlorinated polyethylene (CPE) (geomembranes, wire/cable jacketing)
  • Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) (water piping)
  • Chloroprene (or polychloroprene) (weather stripping, expansion joint filler, seals, adhesives, sealants, flashing)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (pipes, conduits, waterproofing, roofing, siding, door/windows, resilient flooring, carpet backing, wall covering, signage, window treatments, furniture, wire cable sheathing)
  • Halogenated or brominated flame retardants (fabrics, plastics, foams, insulation, carpet backing, epoxy/resins, kitchen appliances, housing paints, electrical devices)
  • Phthalates (pipes, conduits, waterproofing, roofing, siding, doors/windows, resilient flooring, carpet backing, wall covering, signage, window treatments, furniture, wire cable sheathing)
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) (adhesives, protective coatings, paint, piping, epoxy resins, wire/electronic sheathing, polycarbonate plastic products)
  • Toluene Diisocyanate (TDI) (adhesives, applied finishes for acoustical treatment products, elastomeric sheet membrane waterproofing, such as membranes, flashings, and tapes, finishes for sheet metal roofing flashing and specialties, polyurethane foam, polyurethane roof coatings’ production of soft synthetic rubbers, and varnishes). 

To find out more about this topic, visit the AHPBC, USGBC, and Perkins+Will Transparency websites.

Suggested Links: