The Signal: News & Notes from the Pharos Team


Green Seal poised to launch “Greener Insulation” certification

Jim Vallette - July 25, 2016

This week, product certifier Green Seal plans to release its new insulation standard, almost four months after receiving a slew of critiques of its draft.  It has not yet certified any products, but the organization is asking buyers to ask for “Greener Insulation” that achieves Green Seal certification.  We have not seen an advance copy of the final standard. Promotional material now posted on Green Seal’s website indicates one significant change from the draft standard: it prohibits products containing hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), the standard flame retardant treatment in polystyrene insulation. It states, “a Green Seal-certified insulation product will not be formulated with formaldehyde, certain heavy metals, the flame retardant HBCD, and certain harmful pesticides.”  While we welcome the HBCD prohibition, unfortunately, it does not appear that Green Seal restricts other halogenated flame retardants. It chose to exempt toxic subst...

Spinning Vinyl: A Response for the Record

Jim Vallette - July 13, 2016

The Vinyl Institute, an association of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturers, continues its industry-sponsored campaign against the Healthy Building Network in its latest blog post, “VALLETTE COULD USE A FACT CHECKER… (AND A PROOFREADER).” Like earlier posts in its Vinyl Verified website, this article has no discernible author. Its strategy mirrors that of industry-funded climate change skepticism: deny that a problematic condition exists or minimize their industry’s contribution to the problem, and deride others’ claims about these problems as false, misleading scare tactics.[1]  The Vinyl Institute’s Vinyl Verified blog is a gussied-up version of the “Vinyl News Service” website that it ran from 2005 to 2012.[2]  The VNS featured works of art by industry-paid skeptics like Patrick Moore who wrote in 2007, “The anti-vinyl activists have made a lot of crazy allegations about the effects of vinyl. For instance, they...

HBCD-free Styrofoam™ Insulation Coming to USA

Jim Vallette - July 8, 2016

By 2018, extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation[1] will be available in North America without the extremely toxic flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). Yesterday, Dow Chemical announced plans to construct a new manufacturing plant in Burley, Idaho, which will produce XPS insulation with its own flame retardant.[2] Last month, Dow trademarked its butadiene styrene brominated copolymer by the name "BLUEDGE™."[3] This appears to be a good step forward, although much remains to be done to eliminate foam insulation's hazards. "Small changes in this sector can multiply and add up to meaningful change." Halogenated flame retardants like HBCD are substances of global concern; they are among the most toxic, persistent, and bio-accumulative substances used in building products. Typically, XPS insulation contains about 0.7% HBCD flame retardant by weight.[4] Polystyrene insulation is the primary use of HBCD. The removal, recycling and disp...

A Bigger Chemical and Material Library Means Healthier Products

Michel Dedeo - June 29, 2016

As more and more manufacturers disclose chemical hazards through programs like Portico, the Health Product Declaration, Declare, and Cradle to Cradle, it is critical that everyone have access to complete and accurate hazard information, even if they don’t have a chemist on staff. HBN's Chemical and Material Library is growing and evolving to meet that need. The Pharos Project strives to provide the most complete and accurate information about chemical health and environmental hazards available by compiling information from authoritative scientific lists and restricted substance lists that cover 22 endpoints such as cancer, asthma, and developmental toxicity. Using this to better understand the health hazards associated with products can be more difficult than one imagines. It is enough of a challenge to correctly identify chemicals and associate them with hazards drawn from authoritative lists. It gets even more challenging because some hazards are associated not with indi...

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...