The Signal: News & Notes from the Pharos Team


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...

Common decking and insulation pesticide is a honeybee-killer

Jim Vallette - January 14, 2016

At very low concentrations, a chemical widely used to kill termites also harms honeybees, according to a new US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study.[1] The use of this pesticide, imidacloprid, in building materials has soared in recent years.[2] Manufacturers incorporate imidacloprid into exterior products like polystyrene insulation, vinyl siding, adhesives, sealants, and pressure-treated wood decking. Imidacloprid migrates from exterior building materials into water and soil. Bees also use sawdust to help build their hives. Beekeepers use treated wood for stands and treated insulation for nucs. But EPA’s bee research on neonicotinoids like imidacloprid has ignored the potential contribution of these materials. Instead, the agency has approved an ever-expanding list of building products in which it may be used. Honeybee populations are plummeting. Nationwide, bee colony loss exceeded 40% between April 2014 and April 2015. In some states, beekeepers l...

Process chemistry update gives more information on how chemicals are produced and what residuals may be present

Michel Dedeo - December 18, 2015

Those of you interested in chemical residuals should take note: we just overhauled our process chemistry system for reporting the upstream chemicals in manufacturing processes and this affects the chemicals we flag as residuals. As most of you know, the Pharos Chemical and Material Library consists of almost 38,000 chemicals and their hazards. Less well-known is a corner of the library where we show what is involved with producing the most commonly used of these chemicals. These process chemistry relationships consist of about 3000 connections such as “isooctyl alcohol is an integral reactant for diisooctyl phthalate (DIOP)”. Using rules shown below, these relationships determine whether a chemical involved in manufacturing another chemical is considered to be a likely residual. In this case, even though isooctyl alcohol is used to make diisoocytyl phthalate, it is not expected to be a residual.  This is TMI for most users, but if your work involves assessi...

New Research Shows Formaldehyde No Longer Used in Residential Fiberglass Insulation

Jim Vallette - November 18, 2015

The BlueGreen Alliance Foundation and Healthy Building Network made the following announcement coincident with today's opening of the Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Washington DC.  Both organizations have booths in the Expo hall (BGAF is located at Booth #t3766 and HBN is at Booth #2622). FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Eric Steen, erics [at] bluegreenalliance.org Jim Vallette, jim [at] healthybuilding.net New Research Shows Formaldehyde No Longer Used in Residential Fiberglass Insulation Well-Informed Public, Green Building Advocates Led Push for Manufacturers to Phase Out Toxic Chemical WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 18, 2015) – New research shows the light density residential fiberglass insulation industry in the U.S. and Canada has finally eliminated the use of formaldehyde-based binders in its manufacturing. Formaldehyde is a human toxicant with a long history of use in residential insulation, but it—like 62,000 other ch...

Rapid change sweeps flooring industry

Jim Vallette - November 13, 2015

Resilient floors and carpets made today are quite different than those made just a few years ago.  On Monday morning, I will join flooring experts from manufacturing firms, architecture and design firms, and hospitals, to discuss these changes at the Healthcare Design Conference in Washington, D.C. (1) From recycled content to plasticizers to coatings, transformation is the norm in resilient floors and carpets.  Here’s a synopsis of the movement underfoot: Recycled Content.   The big trend here is the move to restrict the use of post-consumer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in flooring, due to supply chain concerns.  Our April 2015 report, supported by testing by the Ecology Center, found that old PVC sheathing from wire and cable scrap, has made its way into floors, and with it, a lot of toxic heavy metals like lead.(2) Tarkett, Interface, Mohawk, and Armstrong are among the industry leaders that have restricted post-consumer scrap.  Home improvement...

Not LEEDership: Supply Chain Optimization Guidance Neutralized Under Chemical Industry Pressure

Tom Lent - November 12, 2015

When is a Supply Chain Optimization credit, not a Supply Chain Optimization credit? Apparently when the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has a hand in writing the rules. The USGBC announced yesterday the results of its sprawling 11 month Supply Chain Optimization Working Group’s efforts to provide guidance for LEED v4’s Building product disclosure and optimization credit Option 3. In it one can clearly see the markings of a bitterly divided group. The outcome, however, is a clear win for the ACC, at least in the short term.  Put simply, this "supply chain optimization" option doesn’t require a manufacturer to report on the health and safety of their supply chain nor to demonstrate that they have done anything meaningful to improve it. It only requires a plan that promises a little bit better in the future and no accountability on that promise.   The intent of the LEED credit is to encourage selection of products whose composition is inventoried ...

Kaiser says no to antimicrobial surfaces in its facilities

Tom Lent - November 11, 2015

  In an October 13 memo, the healthcare giant Kasier Permanente prohibited its design teams from specifying fabric, furniture or finishes with any chemicals from a list of 13 antimicrobials that HBN researchers found are commonly used in building products. Kaiser cited research from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that concludes that there is no evidence that antimicrobials prevent disease. In a recent Health Facilities Management interview John Kouletsis, vice president for facilities planning and design at Kaiser Permanente, indicated that the CDC view is shared by the infection prevention community in Kaiser: “They said with a pretty loud voice that these additional chemicals do not provide the layer of protection that they claim, but proper terminal cleaning is the most effective means.” This builds on Kaiser’s long history of aligning its purchasing and building policies to avoid hazardous antimicrobials, flame retardants, and many o...

More Impending Changes in the Insulation Market

Rebecca Stamm - November 6, 2015

Recently in Healthy Building News, Jim Vallette described positive changes in the composition of residential fiberglass insulation where formaldehyde has been completely phased out in the US and Canada.(1) We have also learned, in the course of research for the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, that significant material changes are imminent in polystyrene insulation as well, where commonly used blowing agents and hazardous flame retardants are slated for phase out in the coming years. Rigid polystyrene foam insulation – often referred to by Dow’s trade name for its polystyrene product, Styrofoam™ – comes in two forms, expanded and extruded polystyrene (EPS and XPS). These products primarily differ in their manufacturing process and blowing agents, leading to differing performance and cost. Both can be used in a variety of insulation applications including under slab, foundation wall, and exterior wall sheathing, and both currently include substances of...