LEED Material Credit Goes After Phthalates, Flame Retardants


credit: Lloyd Alter

I wonder what they will be saying in the Vinyl For Life booth next month at Greenbuild in Chicago; last year they were there in force, explaining how benign it was.

But now the USGBC, which runs LEED (and Greenbuild) has listed phthalates, a key ingredient in the making of most vinyl used it buildings, in a pilot credit for Chemical Avoidance In Building Materials This means that getting vinyl out of buildings may contribute to LEED points. This is a very big deal.


American Chemistry Council

The Healthy Building Network explains:

This marks the beginning of a three step approach the USGBC is developing to address "chemicals of concern" in building materials. LEED project teams will play a critical role in the success of this process, which is likely to be aggressively resisted by the chemicals and plastics industries, and some product manufacturers.

The new pilot credit "acknowledges and supports contemporary and accepted knowledge about specific chemicals of concern that should be avoided," and can be achieved by screening interior finish products to avoid the use of phthalates and halogenated flame retardants. These chemicals, notes the USGBC, are listed both on Chemical Action Plans by the US EPA's Existing Chemicals Program, as well as California's list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity (also known as Proposition 65.)

In the Vinyl- The Material For Life brochure (PDF here) they dismiss the dangers of phthalates:

Concerns in recent years regarding exposure to a certain family of plasticizers called phthalates have led to restrictions on their use in toys and childcare articles despite the fact that consumer and health agencies have not found actual harm from exposure to them.... The accumulated scientific data from years of research into this issue suggest that phthalates do not pose a threat to human health or well-being.

HBN does not agree:

[Phthalates] are not bound to the plastic and are easily released to the indoor environment. Phthalates are a suspected endocrine disrupting chemical and have been linked to an increasing number of reproductive health impacts at low dose exposures, and exposure to building materials containing phthalates has been correlated with asthma and related allergy impacts.

I have noted before that LEED is about a lot more than just energy, which is all the LEED-bashers care about. But there is a lot more to green building, and The American Chemistry Council and the Vinyl Institute have a lot of money to make sure that their products stay in buildings.

I used to be a committed LEED basher, but who else is big enough to stand up like this? Do we wait for the Government to duke it out with the lobbyists and the donors? Do we expect the EPA to go to war with the State of Louisiana and all of its PVC factories?

If LEED calls phthalates dangerous and offer points for avoiding them, architects will, and manufacturers will look for alternatives. Being so big and powerful has problems, but sometimes you need a green monster on your side. I am beginning to like LEED.

More on Phthalates

Vinyl Flooring and Phthalates Linked to Autism in New Study
Do Babies Exposed to Phthalates Have Smaller Penises?
Exxon Blocking Toy Safety Bill That Would Ban Phthalates in Toys
Lipstick, Shampoo, Nail Polish - How Toxic is OK?

On Vinyl:
Greenwash Watch: 12 Ways Vinyl Siding is Green : TreeHugger
The Pluses and Minuses of Vinyl