The Signal: News & Notes from the Pharos Team


On Tire Wastes in Playgrounds

Jim Vallette - June 16, 2016

As temperatures rise on ballfields across America, so do concerns over the piles of tire waste upon which children play. Synthetic turf playing fields lie atop heaps of finely ground recycled rubber from old tires. In playgrounds, chopped up tire mulch is becoming as common as dirt.  In the United States between 2007 and 2013, enough ground tire waste was used as playground mulch to leave the equivalent of two 4”-deep wheel-wide tracks along Earth’s equator.[1] In the 1990s, over one billion waste tires were piled high across the country, in tire dumps that frequently caught fire, sometimes for weeks.[2] The tire industry launched an innovative solution: it began promoting the use of tire waste as a safe alternative to dirt in playgrounds.[3] Now, at a rate of 25 million tires per year, the industry diverts ground rubber from tires into athletic and other playing surfaces.[4] At any given moment, four million children in the United States may be playing atop tire wa...

Filled with Uncertainty: Toxic Dirt in Building & Construction

Jim Vallette - June 13, 2016

In a cavernous, lightly filled, State House hearing room last month[1], the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation turned over the latest evidence that highly contaminated materials are winding up in the worst of all places: around buildings, in playgrounds, gardens, and backyards. Lee C. Seglem, the commission’s acting executive director, testified that “rogue dirt brokers” with “criminal ties” are unloading contaminated fill materials in all sorts of places.  They have even “passed off” toxic dirt as “properly recycled topsoil – perhaps destined for gardens and flower beds in neighborhoods across the State.”[2] Over in New York City, regulators have cracked down on soil traders, and say contaminated fill is going into the “cheapest hole.”[3] They say that a lack of oversight over the soil trade opens the door for shady operators, like Pure Earth Inc., a publicly traded company registered with the...

ACC Pits Risk Assessment Against Right to Know in New LEED Credit

Tom Lent - May 25, 2016

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) consolidated their gains today in their battle to undermine design teams’ right to know about product contents and hazards with a new LEED Pilot credit.  The Building Material Human Hazard & Exposure Assessment Pilot Credit that the USGBC announced this week provides manufacturers with an alternate pathway to contribute to LEED credits by undertaking risk assessments on their products instead of disclosing the contents of their products and their hazards. It was developed “in conjunction with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its members,”[1] and clearly represents an effort by the USGBC to placate this trade association that has been attacking the USGBC ever since the announcement of the Material Ingredients credit in LEED V4, at times going so far as to try to destroy the USGBC’s access to government contracts.[2] The credit only requires five products from two manufacturers in a project to go through the...

The Vinyl Industry Strikes Back

Jim Vallette - April 29, 2016

The Vinyl Institute, a trade association of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturers, this month launched a blog site, called Vinyl Verified, which embodies the spirit of this year’s presidential campaign. The industry website launched with a suite of posts that try to discredit transparency and disclosure tools, many that the modern green building movement hold dear. “Vinyl Verified” revels in polemics. It shouts to cloud reality.  It claims a mission of “confrontation” against those who generate “misinformation” about the PVC industry.  The industry rag expends considerable energy raging against the Healthy Building Network, and yours truly. Informed building owners, architects, housing providers, retailers, and manufacturers are turning away from toxic products wherever they can. Combined, they have forced some serious changes upstream in the chemical sector. Anyone who seeks to educate the market about potential hazards in buildi...

Optimizing Recycling of Flexible Polyurethane Foam

Rebecca Stamm - April 11, 2016

Flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) is found in nearly all upholstered furniture and mattresses, in car seats, and in carpet cushion. About 600,000 tons are incorporated into products purchased in the United States each year.[1] At the end of life, these mattresses, carpet cushions, and articles of furniture make their way into the waste stream for disposal, but some of the foam is diverted and reused in new products, mainly carpet pads. While in many cases, the recycling of wastes into new products is a welcome practice, manufacturers have long added toxic flame retardants to polyurethane foam, which then is incorporated into carpet pads. The industry’s practice of mechanically recycling this scrap has been found to elevate workers’ body burdens of flame retardants and can disperse these highly toxic substances into the global environment. Building occupants, particularly crawling children, can be exposed to flame retardants released from carpet pad. In a new white paper p...

HBN Partnering with Cradle to Cradle for Hazard Screening

Tom Lent - March 30, 2016

The Healthy Building Network (HBN)  has recently completed a project with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to include a Cradle to Cradle view in the Pharos Chemicals and Materials Library (CML). This view will allow anyone with access to Pharos to screen any of the more than 30,000 substances currently catalogued in HBN’s CML using the Cradle to Cradle Certified protocol. The Cradle to Cradle Material Health Assessment Methodology helps manufacturers on the path to product optimization through a four-stage evaluation: Inventory—knowing what’s in it; Screening—identifying known hazards; Assessment—a full toxicological assessment against 24 human and environmental endpoints; and Optimization—using materials that are safe for humans and the environment. HBN’s CML is an independent, comprehensive database for identifying health hazards associated with building products based on authoritative hazard lists. The addition of t...

Toxic Insulation, Certified? Green Seal Needs to Hear From You

Tom Lent - March 29, 2016

We have long counted Green Seal (GS) among the leaders in rewarding reduced toxic chemical content in building products. Green Seal did important early work to identify and certify leadership positions among wet applied products in reduced volatile organic compound (VOC) content and, importantly, also to go beyond VOCs to avoidance of other critical chemicals of concern. Their Paints and Coatings standard (GS-11), for example, offers an industry-best menu of prohibited substances.[1] Unfortunately, a draft Green Seal insulation certification standard - the GS-54 Standard for Architectural Thermal Insulation Materials - open for comment until this Thursday, March 31, needs significant work to maintain this historical leadership position.[2] UPDATE: COMMENT PERIOD HAS BEEN EXTENDED THROUGH APRIL 7  In seeking to find products to certify in each insulation product category, the draft standard rewards insulation products that are loaded with toxic flame retardants, blo...

Still Crazy After All These Years: Mercury Cells in the Heart of America

Jim Vallette - March 22, 2016

For many decades, the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) depended upon a controversial technology invented in the 1890s that polluted the air and water with mercury. Today is World Water Day, and it’s worth noting that some factories still use this toxic technology, and are pouring mercury waste into rivers, lakes and oceans around the world, including in North America. Chlorine, an essential ingredient of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic is found most readily in brine (very salty water). In the 1890s, two scientists developed a way to electrolyze brine using liquid mercury cathodes in a cell, which produced chlorine and sodium hydroxide.  The elixir of mercury catalyzed the chlorine industry, and the PVC that followed.  By the 1970s, the chlorine industry became the world’s leading consumer of mercury.[1] The release of mercury into water exacted an increasing environmental and human health toll.   Gradually, in North America, most mercury cells h...

Hazardous Chemicals in Products Easier to Identify with GreenScreen® V1.3 + Pharos

Tom Lent - March 8, 2016

Clean Production Action (CPA) released the next version of the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals Hazard Assessment Guidance, adding detailed information for using the GreenScreen® List Translator as a first step in identifying hazardous chemicals in products.  GreenScreen List Translator is a tool for readily identifying known chemicals of high concern to human health and the environment.  Companies will now be able to rapidly assess if products contain chemical hazards such as carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, or endocrine disrupting compounds, for example. This new guidance features the Healthy Building Network (HBN) Pharos Project online tools that automate the screening process.  “Clean Production Action developed GreenScreen as a publicly available and transparent chemical hazard screening method to help move our society quickly and effectively toward the use of greener and safer chemicals,” said CPA’s GreenScreen Program Man...

New Tutorials for CompAIR: Pharos's Tool for Comparing VOCs

Sarah Gilberg - March 3, 2016

Last November, we launched CompAIR, a new tool in the suite of Pharos resources that enables users to calculate and compare volatile compounds from building materials as they are applied. Today, we are introducing two short video tutorials to guide you in getting started with using CompAIR, if you haven't already. The first provides basics on using the calculator, and the second digs a little deeper on where to find the product data needed for comparison. These tutorials are now posted on the main CompAIR site and FAQ, and their links are also posted below for your convenience. We created CompAIR to help users report the health impacts of their material choices. Users can populate their own product portfolios and compare product volatile content as applied. Comparisons can be saved and exported for easy sharing with your team and clients. This information is helpful for product selection as well as goal setting for the reduction of volatile content. Volatile organic compound ...