Building materials are derived from a diverse range of renewable and non-renewable materials resources, and through the extraction, harvesting, and manufacturing processes there are negative consequences for our planetary ecosystems. Understanding the full environmental impacts of materials, products or even buildings over their entire lifetime, upstream and downstream, is commonly known as life cycle assessment (LCA).1 Embodied impacts become more critical as operating consumption, such as energy and water, are reduced through optimization of design and building management.2
Even through the installation of materials, humans can be exposed to, for example, harmful, cancer-causing, and endocrine disrupting substances. Health Canada estimates that we spend 90% of our time indoors.3 Therefore, understanding the impact materials have on our individual and community health is critical.
Materials can release chemicals in four ways: volatilization, abrasion, leaching and oxidation , and can enter our bodies through routes such as inhalation, ingestion (eating and drinking), ingestion (hand-to-mouth contact), dermal absorption, breastfeeding, and placental transfer.5 The total chemical load of hazardous substances in our body at any given moment is known as our body burden.6
There are more than 50 million chemicals registered in the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) registry, and nearly 80,000 to 120,000 currently on the market. Chemists discover a new substance on average every 2.6 seconds.7 However, research of the human and ecological impacts has not kept pace with chemical production, nor has regulation to safeguard humans.
The European Union has several regulations in place such as the REACH program and Consumer Product Labelling requirements. These regulations have helped address many EU marketplace concerns related to chemical hazard identification in construction products. In contrast, Canada and the US lack such regulation. This has led to a vast array of tools for project teams and design firms that are primarily targeted towards practitioners.8
In North America, green building certifications such as Living Building Challenge (LBC), LEED, and WELL Building Standard have played a pivotal role in bringing attention to as well as advancing practices around healthy material selection. LEED initially raised awareness regarding volatile organic compounds (VOCs), urea formaldehyde, and other substances commonly emitted from paints, coatings, adhesives, carpet, and composite wood products. In 2006/7, the Living Building Challenge called for greater transparency from the product industry and the need for ingredient disclosure.
Perkins and Will developed the Precautionary List in 2009 by working with chemists and other experts to aid industry stakeholders —manufacturers, project owners, designers and architects—in taking appropriate action to reduce the worldwide chemical burden. Just as our industry now expects projects to be resource-efficient, Perkins and Will, as well as a growing number of industry stakeholders, expects to see built projects that are chemistry-conscious, meeting clients’ objectives while measurably reducing chemicals of concern where possible.9
The building industry has adopted a precautionary approach to substances of concern. More and more project teams aim to avoid building products that contain substances on predefined lists. Three of the most prevalent lists include the Perkins and Will Precautionary List, Living Building Challenge Red List,11 and the Cradle to Cradle Banned List.12 The delta of these substances of concern are listed below.
Perkins and Will Precautionary List was developed in 2009 by working with chemists and other experts to aid in industry stakeholders – manufacturers, project owners, designers and architects – in taking appropriate action to reduce the worldwide chemical burden. Just as our industry now expects projects to be resource-efficient, Perkins and Will, as well as a growing number of industry stakeholders, expects to see built projects that are chemistry-conscious, meeting client’s objectives while measurably reducing chemicals of concerns where possible