Architects usually keep their proprietary research locked up and closely held. Perkins + Will has done the opposite and made it a public service. Launched at Greenbuild the Precautionary List is a compilation of available data on chemicals and materials that may well become "a catalyst for marketplace change". Jetson Green quotes P+W's Robin Gunther:
"Amazingly, it's hard to fathom that as architects we don't always know what (chemicals) are in the building materials we use. It's time for this to change; time to bring a standard for care to building design and construction by starting with the elimination of toxic chemicals in building materials."
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They explain why they are doing this:
Rather than use products that contain these substances, we will seek out alternatives, in keeping with the precautionary principle, in an effort to be responsive to reported health effects, and thereby to protect our health and the health of future generations too.
They list their sources but don't necessarily buy into them completely; in their PVC listing shown above, they note how it can cause severe health problems, but their linked source is much more extreme, calling chlorine, used in PVC production, a terrorist risk.
The Precautionary Principle is often criticized; there is some risk in everything. One critic wrote:
To understand the precautionary principle and its foolishness, we must first distinguish between what economists call "risk" and what they call "uncertainty". An outcome is risky when it is not guaranteed but we know its probability. An outcome is uncertain when we do not even know its probability. That a tossed coin will land heads is thus a matter of risk, while the destruction of an ecosystem from the introduction of GM crops is a matter of uncertainty.
Big business doesn't like the precautionary principle; they prefer to say that "the science isn't settled". PVC, Vinyl and Phthalates are a huge part of the construction industry because they are cheap. Its use is controversial enough that it gets fought over at the Green Building Council and industry booths get accepted at Greenbuild.
Perkins + Will is a big firm that does a lot of corporate work, and is putting their judgment up against some very big guns here. They do hospitals, which are virtually built of vinyl. They are making a public statement about a wide range of products made by very big business. That is not without its own bit of risk.
Good for them. As they say, products that are harmful to humans, animals and the environment should not be in our buildings and houses. More at Perkins + Will Precautionary List.