The Signal: News & Notes from the Pharos Team


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 ...

East of Flint, One Company Defiantly Continues to Produce Lead Pigments

Jim Vallette - February 12, 2016

If you are outraged by the lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan, take a look at what’s happening just 250 miles to the east, near Toronto, where a Canadian company continues to produce lead compounds and distribute them worldwide for use in paints and plastics. Long after most of us have thought lead pigments were no longer in commerce, Dominion Colour continues to manufacture, for export, large volumes of them. Dominion is the world’s largest producer of lead pigments, and it is fighting to maintain its toxic trade. The company is trying get an exemption from a European Union ban on two lead pigments, sparking outrage from global public health groups including the European Environmental Bureau, Occupational Knowledge International, RightOnCanada.ca, and the international NGO network, IPEN.[1] Last year, according to shipping records examined by the Healthy Building Network, Dominion Colour exported over 950 metric tons (that’s over two million pou...

Recycled Rubber Flooring Manufacturer Adopts HBN Recommendations

Jim Vallette - February 9, 2016

In this month’s Environmental Building News, Paula Melton takes a deep look into the issue of recycled tires used in resilient flooring. She expands upon several issues, such as the use and presence of additives like benzothiazole, that we touched upon a few years ago in the Healthy Building Network (HBN) report, Avoiding Contaminants in Tire-Derived Flooring. We expect her findings will spark further industry improvements, as apparently happened after we released our review in 2013. “Ecore, a major manufacturer of tire-derived flooring, says it has 'adopted and implemented the recommendations from the HBN study,’" Melton reported. Before our report on tire-derived flooring, the industry’s best practice was to conduct testing for selected toxic substances, like lead, once every year or so; now, Ecore tells EBN that it is testing daily.   While this is a dramatic improvement, it is important to consider whether this is enough. Ecore says it...

Does your paint contain cobalt mined by children in the #DRC?

Jim Vallette - January 27, 2016

Amnesty International last week reported on the connection between popular consumer products and cobalt mined by young children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Their research “exposes the need for transparency, without which multinationals can profit from human-rights abuses like child labor without checking where and how the raw materials in their products are mined.” Amnesty’s investigation focused on the cobalt supply chain that leads to batteries used in computers, electric cars, and mobile phones. But common building and construction products, like paint, natural oil stains, and countertops, also are major end users of cobalt, often from the same suppliers used by smartphone manufacturers. This Is What We Die For[1] documents the horrors of mining cobalt in the southern DRC. This region produces half of the world’s cobalt.[2] Artisanal miners (defined as those who mine by hand), numbering over 100,000, work the scraps from larger operat...