The Signal: News and Notes from the Pharos Team - Tom Lent's Posts

The US Congress has approved legislation[1] to limit allowable emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products, specifically hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard sold in the United States. The new limits in are based on the levels established for the State of California in 2007 by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

This is good news for reducing the serious toll that this known carcinogen takes on human health through widespread exposures in homes, offices and schools from building materials. The legislation should serve as a strong wake up call to the industry and help increase availability of...

Last week we described the major reductions in VOC content we are seeing in paints (Paint Industry Drives Toward Zero VOCs – Will Certifications Catch Up?). But does a low-VOC content number mean these paints are actually safe from the perspective of environmental health? Not necessarily.

As we described in an earlier blog (Sorting Out The VOCs), the total VOC (TVOC) criteria originally was established by the EPA to control product emissions of smog forming compounds into the environment, not to control direct indoor air health impacts.  With the focus on smog formation, TVOC is a very incomplete measure of the potential health impact of chemicals of concern in a product.  By official EPA definition, TVOC exempts some VOCs from measurement because they don’t...

Low-VOC labels and certifications abound on the paint shelves today. What do they all mean?  Not necessarily what you think. 

First, let’s look at the certifications.  Green Seal, EcoLogo, CRGI GreenWise and MPI Green Performance all base their certifications on VOC content – and 50 grams/liter (g/l) is the magic number.  Almost every single one of the certifications sets 50 g/l as the maximum VOC content for flat sheen paints. (Flat sheens are primarily for ceilings and walls, with a matte look and are the least scrubbable of the sheens).

The consensus goes out the window for other sheens, such as semi-gloss, gloss, satin or eggshell (each preferable for...

Leukemia and other cancers of the lymph nodes, blood, bone marrow and spleen… neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity and immunotoxicity… respiratory tract pathology, asthma, and increased allergic sensitization.  A major EPA review of the science on formaldehyde, released in draft form this week,* affirms that the science is conclusive that formaldehyde is linked to all of these health effects in humans. This report further legitimizes longstanding concerns about formaldehyde within the building industry.

The good news is that it is getting easier to avoid formaldehyde in products such as composite wood and batt insulation.  Manufacturers are responding to the growing awareness that formaldehyde-based binders can ...

Foam board insulation presents one of the tougher challenges for green building. With excellent performance characteristics and high R values - from 4 to 5 per inch or beyond - foam boards have been very popular for insulating foundations, walls and roofs in high performance designs. As we’ve reviewed the chemistry of these foams for the Pharos Project, however, we’ve learned that the chemistry that goes into making the most popular foams - polyisocyanate, such as Thermax, expanded polystyrene (EPS) such as Falcon Foam and extruded polystyrene (XPS) such as Styrofoam - is highly problematic for human...

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