The Signal: News and Notes from the Pharos Team

Building on our review of ceramic and porcelain tiles earlier this year, the Pharos team has added a Sanitary Ware category to our building product library.   Flushometers, toilets, tanks, and toilet seats now appear in Pharos.

This was an interesting experience for us – trying to decipher the material composition of a class of products described only very generally: “vitreous china”, “stain resistant glaze”, or “plastic”.  It seems that ingredient disclosure isn’t a conversation that’s been happening in this sector.  While some products may contain a small amount of recycled content, the primary environmental concern in the industry has been, appropriately so, on water conservation.

Our review of these products uncovered some materials of concern.

First: antimicrobials.  As might be expected in a product category where cleanliness is prized, toilets and toilet seats...

When we opened a Pharos product category for Ceramic Tiles last month, the mortars and grouts required to install them were a bit of an afterthought: essentially cement, we assumed, adding these products to Pharos would be a snap.  As it happens, we were wrong on both counts.  Far from just cement, there is a wide range of chemistries used to formulate mortars and grouts, each unique in the ingredients and additives required… except for one tiny exception: our research found that silver- and nanosilver-based antimicrobials are virtually standard issue in mortars and grouts.

Our review of cementitious, epoxy, and urethane mortars and grouts led us through countless technical data sheets, MSDSs, and product brochures, and the majority of grouting products (and some mortars that can also be used as grout) market formulations with antimicrobial/mold resistant/mildew resistant additives.  This makes sense, of course, since grouts are on the surfaces...

When purchasing ceramic wall or flooring tiles, focus on products made in the USA.  Not only will you help staunch the exodus of the ceramic tile industry to other continents, you will probably avoid bringing toxic heavy metals into your building project.

That is the main conclusion from our research into the ceramic tile industry, which culminated in this week’s opening of our newest category of product evaluations.  The Pharos building product database provides in-depth and product-specific analysis of the vast majority of floorings, including carpet, solid wood, engineered wood, rubber (natural and synthetic), vinyl, cork, polyolefin, and now ceramic tile flooring.

Transparency in the tile industry is on the increase, but full disclosure of material contents remains rare. The lack of specifics about some key ingredients – especially tile glazes and processing additives  -- required us, as with every category we have researched...

“Is it necessary?” That’s the key question the State of California is asking about chemicals in consumer products that are known to cause serious harm to people or the environment. The state took a small but very significant step today in its Safer Consumer Product program, identifying the first three product-chemical combinations they plan to evaluate for regulation. Two are actively used in construction. There are compelling cases for getting rid of each of them:

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The EPA’s ongoing review of coal combustion wastes’ regulatory status would seem like a great opportunity to explore essential questions about the safety of bringing coal wastes into a wide range of interior building materials. But, any hopes for that kind of investigation crashed to earth with the EPA’s new report, Coal Combustion Residual Beneficial Use Evaluation: Fly Ash Concrete and FGD Gypsum Wallboard (February 2014).

Instead, the report signals a return to the agency’s longstanding role as cheerleader for the coal ash industry.  In 2010, the EPA Inspector General said the agency needed to reconsider its promotion of coal power waste reuse, and get some facts. "We determined that risk information on EPA’s Coal Combustion Products Partnership website was incomplete, and that...

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