Building Products and Health: A Look at Risk vs. Hazard

April 2, 2014

The Living Building Challenge and other programs that include “red lists” of substances to avoid are based on the principle of hazard avoidance. The idea is attractive in its logic. Certain chemicals are dangerous; we should avoid using those chemicals.

For better or for worse, it’s not always that simple. Things can be hazardous in a general sense without constituting any actual risk of harm to anyone in a specific setting. So why avoid using them in that setting? To make the point, consider water: drink too much, and you may suffer from water intoxication, also known as dilutional hyponatremia. But no one wants to put water on a red list.