Friday, September 26, 2014

USGBC Project for Hazardous Materials Transparency

In 2012, the USGBC created the LEED, Materials, and Health Project which consisted of three parts:
  • Consistency – harmonizing product transparency and optimization programs
  • Research – determining the effects of materials on health
  • Adoption – understanding where opportunities and challenges are for increasing the disclosure of ingredient profiles
In an attempt to make product transparency the norm in order to focus more attention on building material ingredients, the goals of this project were straightforward:
  • Improve the indoor environment from a human health perspective
  • Reduce barriers to materials transparency
  • Improve the understanding of health impacts of building materials
  • Bring materials transparency and product optimization into the mainstream
In order to successfully accomplish the goals of the LEED, Materials, and Health Project, the two most important aspects that need to be solved are: standardization and classification.  There needs to be a universal standard for labeling hazardous materials in place for a clear and concise disclosure of materials' ingredients. Additionally, there needs to be a scientific understanding of what the listed ingredients mean and the kind of handling and disposal they require.

The big issue the USGBC was met with was the so-called labeling schemes companies use to sweep the true identity of chemical ingredients under the rug. Comparable to the food companies who use every name under the sun to place sugar in the labels other than the simple straightforward "sugar." When people are ill-informed or uneducated in regards to the complicated labels of scientific names, this can lead to the improper use, handling, or disposal of hazardous materials.

The USGBC has met this issue with a number of events which bring in lecturers who lend their perspectives on how to deal with such deception on the part of chemical companies. In one particular event, in partnership with the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, "The Importance of Material Disclosure and Transparency for the Future Health of the Built Environment: A Community Developer’s Perspective" John Knott, the Executive Director of HPDC, discussed the importance of material disclosure and transparency to promote human and ecological health. Not only are these materials potentially dangerous to the people handling them, if they are not disposed of properly they can cause serious damage to the environment and even lead to long lasting health hazards.

Another event hosted by the USGBC in partnership with the Green Science Policy Institute "Healthy Buildings: Reducing the Use of Flame Retardants and the ‘Six Classes’ of Harmful Chemicals" brought in Arlene Blum, Ph.D who discussed the approach of classifying the over 80,000 US-registered chemicals into six classes. The six class approach allows for a clear way of revealing the potential health hazards associated with individual chemicals. This approach has the potential to make understanding scientific ingredients more attainable for anyone involved in the handling of such materials.

The next step in achieving healthy, green buildings is through a harmonious relationship between material transparency and a scientific understanding of the ingredients of said materials. In creating this relationship, it will be easier to foresee and reduce any potential health impacts in order to build a safer and more environmentally friendly structure.

Learn more about the LEED green building rating system at To achieve training and certification for the use and disposal of hazardous materials, visit Green Education Services for a full line-up of Hazardous Materials courses.