I am sure we have all read about the pressing need to improve labelling of food, in order to identify those that contain genetically modified ingredients or are grown organically. A valid movement, but what about other products that humans interact with on a daily bases? What about building materials? Although we do not eat our building materials – try telling my dog that! – the inclusion of harmful chemicals (i.e. worst in class chemicals) within them can be harmful to our health as well.
The idea behind improved labelling is that if we if know better, we can do better. The International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC) and select responsible manufacturers are optimistic, they believe that with the right knowledge of ingredients within building materials, purchasers will select products that are free from worst in class chemicals.
But what is a worst in class chemical and why is it important to avoid them?
Worst in class chemicals are: persistent; highly toxic (even in small doses); accumulate in living tissue; and concentrate as they move up the food chain. The chemicals can be released to the environment at several stages of a building materials life, such as during manufacturing, and when in-use (i.e. through off-gassing, the release of emissions from a building product).
Common in residential, commercial and industrial building materials, they include: polyvinyl chloride; mercury; and lead. They must be avoided. Even in small amounts, they will damage human and ecological health.
Still not convinced? Consider the example of alcohol; which is a toxin (yet despite how you felt last January 1, it is not a worst in class chemical). Imagine if the alcohol you consumed last New Year’s Eve – and that lovely hangover it brought – remained in your body till 2023. You might have thought twice before consuming that second pint!
Your actions could be excused if you did not know any better; however, this is not the case. Beer bottles list ingredients and the potential side effects of alcohol consumption. The informative label provides the consumer with the knowledge to do better (most of the time!)
Should we not take the same steps for worst in class chemicals?
Thankfully, several organizations believe that we should.
- ILFI – Living Building Challenge: Under the materials Petal, is imperative 11 – Red List; which notes that a project cannot contain certain worst in class chemicals. These include toxic substances such as, but not limited to asbestos, cadmium, mercury, lead, formaldehyde and polyvinyl chloride (the full list found in the LBC codified standard version 2.1, available at www.living-future.org).
- Declare – the labelling entity of the ILFI provides a platform for ingredient disclosure. Manufacturers voluntarily provide ingredient data to Declare, who validate the authenticity and present it on a ‘Declare Label’; which is affixed to the product. Purchasers can access the Declare website (http://www.declareproducts) to find a list of products that do not contain worst in class chemicals.
- The HPDC is a customer led association with a goal to improve the environmental and health performance of supply chains. To achieve this goal, the HPDC works with manufacturers to standardize language used in ingredient and health hazard reporting. Remove uncertainty from product ingredient labels and a purchaser can be proficient in their selection of environmentally sound products. Why is this important? Think back to the alcohol reference. When ingredients are listed on the bottle, consumers understand that the beer contains alcohol. But what if the word alcohol was replaced with another word – that still meant alcohol – you would consume it unknowingly. The same incident can occur with worst in class chemicals and ingredient labelling for building materials.
Lastly, think about what this means for human and environmental health, responsible purchasers and the building industry. Through the Red List, Declare and HPDC, purchasers know of worst in class chemicals and their presence in building materials. They can readily determine which products contain worst in class chemicals and those that do not. This will pressure manufacturers to find alternative, less damaging ingredients for their products. The end result will be a healthier environment, with fewer toxins in our buildings.
Alpar Architectural deTerra biobased polymer wall and corner guards. They have achieved the Living Building Challenge Declare Lable and Health Product Declaration
CollinsWood – Collins Pine FreeForm® Particleboard, is a Living Building Challenge Red List Free product.
Collins Pine Particleboard used in the construction of café tables.