In a move that Healthy Building Network policy director Tom Lent predicts is “sure to shake up the building industry,” the European Union announced last week that it would ban five chemicals used in building materials plus a sixth chemical used in cleaning product fragrances within the next three to five years. The EU is targeting three phthalates (BBP, DEHP and DBP), which Lent describes as “hormone-disrupting reproductive toxicants used in many flexible PVC products such as vinyl flooring, textiles and wall coverings;” HBCDD, “a persistent bioaccumulative toxicant (PBT) widely used as a flame retardant in polystyrene foam insulation;” and MDA, “a known potent carcinogen used as a basic building block in the manufacture of polyurethane foams and MDI composite wood binders.”
Healthy Building Network officials found 46 products that contained one of the targeted substances or were manufactured using one as a feedstock in its database of building materials. An equal amount of products were free of the targeted substances.
“The EU action is an important step in identifying toxic substances that do not belong in trade,” Lent writes. “It will impact global supply chains that produce and use the chemicals. These include vinyl, foam insulation, carpet backing, adhesives, and composite wood industries that supply products to the U.S. building materials markets.”
Lent reports that the EU is considering bans on 46 more substances await and plans to assess thousands more. “This is just the beginning of a long process of chemicals policy reform to which the EU has shown a strong commitment,” he states.
Fortunately, he says, designers and homeowners have some powerful tools—the Green Screen for Safer Chemicals and the Pharos Project's Chemical and Material Library--to help them choose greener, safer products.