The Signal: News and Notes from the Pharos Team

When purchasing ceramic wall or flooring tiles, focus on products made in the USA.  Not only will you help staunch the exodus of the ceramic tile industry to other continents, you will probably avoid bringing toxic heavy metals into your building project.

That is the main conclusion from our research into the ceramic tile industry, which culminated in this week’s opening of our newest category of product evaluations.  The Pharos building product database provides in-depth and product-specific analysis of the vast majority of floorings, including carpet, solid wood, engineered wood, rubber (natural and synthetic), vinyl, cork, polyolefin, and now ceramic tile flooring.

Transparency in the tile industry is on the increase, but full disclosure of material contents remains rare. The lack of specifics about some key ingredients – especially tile glazes and processing additives  -- required us, as with every category we have researched...

“Is it necessary?” That’s the key question the State of California is asking about chemicals in consumer products that are known to cause serious harm to people or the environment. The state took a small but very significant step today in its Safer Consumer Product program, identifying the first three product-chemical combinations they plan to evaluate for regulation. Two are actively used in construction. There are compelling cases for getting rid of each of them:

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The EPA’s ongoing review of coal combustion wastes’ regulatory status would seem like a great opportunity to explore essential questions about the safety of bringing coal wastes into a wide range of interior building materials. But, any hopes for that kind of investigation crashed to earth with the EPA’s new report, Coal Combustion Residual Beneficial Use Evaluation: Fly Ash Concrete and FGD Gypsum Wallboard (February 2014).

Instead, the report signals a return to the agency’s longstanding role as cheerleader for the coal ash industry.  In 2010, the EPA Inspector General said the agency needed to reconsider its promotion of coal power waste reuse, and get some facts. "We determined that risk information on EPA’s Coal Combustion Products Partnership website was incomplete, and that...

Last month, the Pharos research team released a Healthy Building Network (HBN) report on asthmagens in building materials titled Full Disclosure Required: a Strategy to Prevent Asthma Through Building Product Selection. Since then,  Signal readers have raised some great questions about our report and the HBN priority asthmagens filter that we added to the Pharos Project Building Product Library at Greenbuild last November:

Aren’t there other more conventional triggers for asthma than chemicals from building materials?

Public health agencies often report dust, pet dander, environmental air pollution, tobacco smoke, respiratory...

The steadily unfolding disaster in West Virginia, makes painfully clear why transparency is so important. About two weeks ago, a coal-processing chemical leaked into the Elk River, tainting the drinking water for 300,000 people. Initially the company at fault - a firm with the ironic name of Freedom Industries – reported that the leaking chemical was MCHM, calculations were done and health officials determined that the water was too hazardous to consume – or even bathe in. Twelve days later, just as levels are supposedly returning below the thresholds the health officials calculate to be safe (albeit with sadly inadequate scientific data) it has been revealed that there is a second previously undisclosed chemical involved. What is it? Believe it or not, the MSDS provided by Freedom Industries to explain the situation indicates it is made up of entirely 100% proprietary ingredients and only a lot...

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