The Signal: News & Notes from the Pharos Team


Consumer Reports warns parents: phthalates migrate from PVC floors

Jim Vallette - July 9, 2015

Parents should wash their toddlers’ hands, and regularly mop vinyl floors, especially if children crawl on the floors, warns the Consumers Union in the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports. (1)   The Consumers Union is the advocacy arm of the venerable Consumers Reports magazine. It has “long raised concerns about phthalates,” the article notes. Over twenty percent of the composition of some vinyl sheet flooring is phthalate plasticizer. Public health authorities have determined that many phthalates are detrimental to developmental health. Some phthalates are carcinogens.   In response to these concerns, the world’s largest flooring companies – Mohawk and Tarkett – along with leading retailers Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Menards, this year have announced that they are phasing-out the intentional use of phthalate plasticizers in vinyl flooring by the end of this year. (2)   The Consumers Union tested 17 vinyl floors...

New health concerns about common additives to carpet fibers

Jim Vallette - July 8, 2015

Public health experts are sounding new alarms about two types of chemicals that are applied to carpet fibers: perchlorate anti-static treatments and perfluorochemical stain repellents. Perchlorate anti-static treatments Carpet manufacturers often add anti-static (antistat) treatments to carpet fibers, in order to prevent the buildup of electrical charges. Carpet manufacturers have not typically disclosed the presence of these fiber additives, but sometimes clarity can be found upstream, from chemical manufacturers such as BASF.  The world’s largest chemical company sells a line of antistats called Irgastat P. BASF’s product brochure recommends using Irgastat P on polypropylene carpet fiber. (1) A BASF material safety data sheet for Irgastat P22 states that this treatment contains sodium perchlorate (CAS no. 7601-89-0) (2) The US EPA has identified sodium perchlorate as an “emerging contaminant,” due to its growing presence in drinking water an...

Fly ash in concrete causing flooring installation failures

Jim Vallette - June 15, 2015

Floor Trends magazine last week uploaded an enlightening video interview with consultant Lew Migliore (LGM & Associates). Migliore raised an issue that is just coming to light in the flooring industry: increasing proportions of fly ash in concrete underlayment are causing flooring installation failures. “The fly ash issue has just escalated,” Migliore said. “Just recently, the American fly ash association and the concrete industry have come to some agreement where more can go into the concrete, which was a celebrated event for them. When you get up to about forty percent fly ash content, it starts to create issues of flooring materials not sticking to the surface of the concrete. Now, increasing that to upwards of 60%, the likelihood of you sticking anything to that floor becomes very remote. “Who knows as a flooring contractor how much fly ash is in the concrete?” he asked. “No one thinks to ask that. When there’s a failure...

Of Phthalates and Fraud: A Twitter mini-series

Jim Vallette - June 9, 2015

Intro. #FollowTheMoney: Sixteen tweets on phthalates and fraud:inside @ExxonMobil’s efforts to save its poison plasticizers.— Jim Vallette (@HBNJim) June 2, 2015 Pt1 #FollowTheMoney 1998: American Council on Science and Health (@ASCHorg) hires Dr. Gilbert Ross, fresh out of prison, as Medical Director— Jim Vallette (@HBNJim) June 2, 2015 Pt2 #FollowTheMoney 1995-7: Dr. Ross loses license, spends 22mo in jail for #Medicaid #fraud. http://t.co/VIbyfaKBVG pic.twitter.com/ZswjLbRCql— Jim Vallette (@HBNJim) June 2, 2015 Pt3 #FollowTheMoney 1998: Exxon expands its #phthalate plasticizer plant in Baton Rouge, La., largest in the #USA. pic.twitter.com/OMGKbgkG1b— Jim Vallette (@HBNJim) June 2, 2015 Pt4 #FollowTheMoney 1999: Europe bans some phthalates in toys “to protect babies who are now in their first years.” http://t.co/1eZsb1u3IP— Jim Vallette (@HBNJim) June 2, 2015 Pt5 #FollowTheMoney 1999 ACSH report led by ex-Surgeon General C.E. Koop...

Chemical Engineer Joins HBN Staff

Susan Sabella - May 26, 2015

A couple weeks ago, I introduced you to Michel Dedeo, HBN’s first staff chemist.  Today, I have the privilege of introducing another new member of our staff, Rebecca Stamm.  Rebecca recently joined HBN’s research team.  As a chemical engineer who worked on a team developing and testing building materials, she brings some serious research chops to our endeavor of understanding the make-up of building products at the chemical level.  Rebecca resides in Terra Haute, IN. What drove your interest in becoming a chemical engineer? To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up!  I was always good at math and science and enjoyed problem solving, so engineering seemed like a good fit when I was getting ready for college.  I’ve enjoyed the past opportunities I’ve had in research and product development and look forward to lending my engineering skills to the goal of healthier buildings. What is th...

Recent Changes to the Pharos Chemical and Material Library

Michel Dedeo - April 30, 2015

Version 3 of Pharos continues to evolve since it was released about six months ago. This post discusses four recent changes in how we categorize and display chemicals hazards. For a more detailed description of what data are available in Pharos and how the system works, please consult the Chemical and Material Library System Description.  1. New Hazard Indicator Display Pharos V3 was rolled out with many new features, including a new hazard indicator dot in the chemical and product search screens to display the highest listed hazard for a chemical or ingredient. In March, this system was expanded to display the highest hazards of potential residual and manufacturing chemicals as well.  The hazard summary uses colored dots to represent relative levels of hazard that are derived from authoritative hazard lists. The relative hazard levels range from purple (highest concern) through red, orange, and yellow to green (lowest concern). Grey indicates that the authoritative ha...

HBN Hires Staff Chemist

Susan Sabella - April 20, 2015

HBN is experiencing a small growth spurt of late, which is really exciting for us.  I hope to introduce them to our Pharos users over the next few weeks.  In February, we hired Michel Dedeo as our staff chemist.  Michel received his doctoral degree from UC Berkeley and has worked on material health issues with the Green Science Policy Institute, Perkins+Will, GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals, and the UC Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry.  Michel resides in Oakland, CA. What interested you in working for HBN and the area of building materials? The organization is small and nimble and full of bright, driven people with big ideas. And most importantly, it has given itself a clear mandate to change the way materials are made - for the better. We're trying to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in the economy, and building materials are a good place to start because they are produced and used on a huge scale. Even small changes in their composition can ha...

Bees Need Healthy Buildings Too

Jim Vallette - March 26, 2015

In the course of researching polystyrene foam insulation, the Healthy Building Network research team came to understand that these materials are susceptible to termite infestation. Polystyrene insulation manufacturers commonly add insecticides to combat termites, especially in exterior and below grade insulation. This includes a type of Styrofoam made by the dominant manufacturer, Dow Chemical. This article is intended as a warning to beekeepers who are considering building “nucs” — the boxes that house nucleus colonies — with polystyrene foam insulation. These boards may contain insecticides that are toxic to bees.   Pesticides commonly used in polystyrene insulation include imidacloprid and deltamethrin. Imidacloprid is a member of a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which cause “sublethal” effects on bees – by not killing them directly, but weakening them. The honeybees become more susceptible to death by o...

Material Health Dream Team Announce Progress on Data Harmonization Efforts

Susan Sabella - October 22, 2014

HBN, Cradle-to-Cradle Product Innovation Institute, GreenScreen/Clean Production Action and the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC) announced a new Application Programming Interface (API) at a press conference during the Materials & Human Health Summit at Greenbuild 2014. The API will allow systems like HBN’s Pharos Project and Google’s Healthy Materials Tool to draw manufacturer-provided building product data directly from the HPDC’s Health Product Declaration Builder.     Earlier this year, the organizations formed a Harmonization Taskforce Group (HTG) to streamline the inventorying of ingredients, screening of chemicals, and hazard assessment. The US Green Building Council and the Google Foundation are funding this collaborative work. The API is the first deliverable pursuant to this funding. The API will increase uniformity of data shared by manufacturers and greatly simplify distribution of it to a wide range of certifier...

Welcome, Greenbuild attendees, to the Asthma Corridor

Jim Vallette - October 21, 2014

The 2014 Greenbuild conference and exhibition is happening at the mouth of what has long been described as America’s Cancer Corridor.  Petrochemical plants line the Mississippi River between New Orleans, host to this year’s Greenbuild, and Baton Rouge, the state capital.    Here, multinational corporations have produced a huge share of this country’s carcinogens, like vinyl chloride monomer, the essential feedstock for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic products; and some phthalates, which makes PVC flexible. The industry’s impacts here spawned the environmental justice movement in the late 1980s. These days, this serpentine industrial stretch could just as well be branded the Asthma Corridor, given the region’s growing production of essential feedstocks for polyurethane systems.  These systems are increasingly popular in building applications, including adhesives, insulation (spray polyurethane foam, known as SPF) and furnitu...