Avoiding Toxic Chemicals

OVERVIEW

There are tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals used in our building products, so how do you know which ones are hazardous?

These articles look at some of the most-toxic chemicals, why they are hazardous, which product groups contain them, and alternatives to using them.

You’ll learn about:

  • the burgeoning green chemistry movement

  • tools like Health Product Declarations that tell us what’s in products

  • formaldehyde

  • polyvinyl chloride

  • bisphenol-A

  • flame retardants

  • perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)

We also offer guidance on design decisions that can reduce or eliminate the need for many of these problematic compounds.

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  • Chemistry for Designers: Understanding Hazards in Building Products

    Feature Article

    What's in our building materials? Are there chemicals we should be afraid of? Trying to get answers to these questions can be frustrating, but there are a number of good tools available.

  • Polystyrene Insulation: Does It Belong in a Green Building?

    Feature Article

    Polystyrene is widely used as a rigid insulation in North America, offering high insulation values, moisture resistance, strength, and affordability. But a flame retardant in the material, as well as its life-cycle impacts, raise questions about whether it should be used at all.

  • The Living Building Challenge: Can It Really Change the World?

    Feature Article

    The Living Building Challenge, with its stringent, all-or-nothing requirements, is out to change the way we build. But is it actually achievable?

  • Making Air Barriers that Work: Why and How to Tighten Up Buildings

    Feature Article

    Incorporating a continuous air barrier into a building's design and construction can save energy and improve the indoor environment, among other benefits. The right materials and assemblies can help accomplish that goal, but careful attention during design and close oversight during construction are essential.

  • Asbestos Rule Is Tip of Chemical Regulation Iceberg

    News Analysis

    The updated Toxic Substances Control Act could be crippled by updated EPA review methods.

  • Antimicrobial Chemicals in Buildings: Hygiene or Harm?

    Feature Article

    Carpets, door handles, and a myriad of other building products now contain pesticides targeting fungi and bacteria, offering potential benefit to the indoor environment, but also raising health concerns. This article asks whether antimicrobial products live up to their marketing claims and whether relying on them is a sound path to a hygienic environment.

  • Making Carpet Environmentally Friendly

    Feature Article

    Carpets are the most popular floorcovering in the U.S., but they have also been associated with environmental problems including indoor air emissions and intensive resource use. However, manufacturers have worked to curb their environmental footprints by recycling carpet, examining their life-cycle impacts, and pursuing broad-based certification.

  • Piping in Perspective: Selecting Pipe for Plumbing in Buildings

    Feature Article

    Potable water supply piping and drain-waste-vent piping represent a significant fraction of a building's materials. Choosing the greenest pipe for both applications, particularly deciding between metal pipe and plastic alternatives, requires evaluating a variety of environmental and human health impacts as well as durability and performance issues.

  • Cradle to Cradle Certification: A Peek Inside MBDC's Black Box

    Feature Article

    Cradle to Cradle is a multiple-attribute product certification program based on the philosophy of architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, and the work of their company, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). While MBDC's consulting services are driving breakthroughs in green manufacturing, the certification program lacks some of the comprehensiveness and transparency that are increasingly expected in the green certification market.

  • Get a Whiff of This: The Lowdown on Product Emissions Testing

    Feature Article

    Analytical chemistry tools, used together with product testing chambers, are making it possible to "see" product emissions in new ways. Editor Nadav Malin discusses the science behind product emissions testing, the different product certification standards, and what's ahead for this growing field.