The Signal: News and Notes from the Pharos Team

Halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) used in building materials and their breakdown products can be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic.  As such, they appear on restriction lists used by many in the green building community, including the Living Building Challenge Red List and the Perkins+Will Precautionary List.   Beyond their environmental or health characteristics, discussion is growing about whether HFRs, or any flame retardant additive, even provide any benefit in a fire in the first place. [1, 2, 3]

While the debate boils over, many US building codes require high resistance to flame even for materials like insulation that are behind thermal barriers and that will have little or no exposure to a fire.  This requires foam...

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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