Concrete Concerns

When I received this month’s issue of

EBN [Vol. 15, No. 2], with its feature article extolling the virtues of polished concrete floors, I did a double take. Although I am drawn to concrete as a “modernist’s” material of choice, I believe it is of questionable value as an environmentally friendly choice.

It is difficult to advocate for concrete without also advocating for the cement industry as the supplier of what is most commonly the key ingredient of this material. Considering that cement plants pollute our environment with unhealthy amounts of mercury and other toxins such as dioxin, hydrochloric acid, and hydrocarbons, I question whether this industry deserves an environmentally friendly endorsement.

I suspect the intent of the article was to consider the environmentally friendly qualities of the end product, and I agree with every one of these you listed. However, I have always respected

EBN for looking beyond end products to net results, and I am disappointed that, for once, you did not scratch the durable surface of polished concrete floors with a mention of the material that goes into the product, and the effect of its manufacture on our environment.

James Burde


Jericho, VermontEditors’ response:

Mr. Burde makes a good point about the need to address the environmental burdens of cement manufacturing, of which there are many (see EBN

Vol. 2, No. 2). What appeals to us about the use of polished concrete as a finished floor surface, however, is that in most applications a structural concrete floor slab is needed anyway—and may already be in place. Polishing and hardening the concrete obviates the need for a finish floor on top of it. With existing buildings, polishing an existing slab may be an alternative to removing and disposing of it.Correction: Peter Wagner, RetroPlate’s marketing director, pointed out an error in the article. We reported that staff at West Seattle High School are unhappy with their RetroPlate installation because they continue to polish and wax as if it were VCT. “In fact, their floor still is VCT,” says Wagner. “Although a 100 ft2 [9 m2] test was put down in the school, to this date they have not moved forward with RetroPlate.” We apologize for the misunderstanding and have corrected the online version of the article.

Published April 3, 2006

(2006, April 3). Concrete Concerns. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/concrete-concerns

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April 4, 2006 - 11:02 am

Mr Burde's comment on use of concrete is food for thought. While doing inspections on sections of the Roman Aquaducts still in use in Europe and their construction methods, brought to light the development of Portland cement. The original cement was the ash from a Volcano erruption on the isle of Portland (hence the name/term Portland Cement). This ash was mixed with other natural materials (sand and stone) to create a cementious, durable product that could be assembled by man. The use of concrete since the fall of the Roman Empire has expanded past the capabilities of existing Volcanos to provide the volume of ash necessary for "todays world". Now it is artifically created from basically the same products (dirt) as the original, with some improvements. The Portland Cement Association can provide excellent information on Cement, Concrete and their use.
Robert Cox AIAA Ret., CSI Emeritus, ACIA Hon.