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Red List Mania: Three Ways to Make Chemical Avoidance Guides Work Better

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:12 AM
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by Jennifer Atlee last modified Sep 01, 2011

This Venn diagram shows the overlap of various "red lists" that recommend chemicals to exclude from building products. Courtesy Healthy Building Network A "red list" of chemicals is supposed to make the screening process simple. Bu... It really depends on the product category. For example, we decided long ago not to list electrical wire at all until someone made a halogen free ROHS compliant wire ( now available ), because the hazard concerns were significant and there wasn't another key environmental differentiator between wiring products. However, we list PVC framed windows with a unit U-factor of 0.20 (a higher efficiency threshold than windows with other framing) and we list a PVC-based flashing product for which there is currently no equivalent, because we believe the unique performance benefits are paramount. How to make it better Making use of a red list can be an important step in starting to incorporate hazard concerns into designer's work. The EBN article Chemistry for Designers , is our effort to help our readers understand these red lists and add context for making decisions in practice. Ultimately there are a few other things we'd like to see happen: Greater disclosure. It's hard to assess constituent hazards for a product if you don't know what's in it. We do the best we can while working toward ever greater transparency and clearer reporting standards, in partnership with HBN. HBN has been diligently working with manufacturers to get more complete disclosure of contents for listing in its Pharos directory of products. When designers make Requests For Information through the Pharos system, manufacturers hear a clear message from their customers. Stronger national regulation. While clear market signaling can make a big difference and move us toward cleaner products, we need industry-wide shifts, which are hard to get without regulation. Too often innovation toward healthy products happens in response to international regulations like REACH, leaving both domestic manufacturers who can't sell in those markets, and domestic consumers, who still can't buy the healthier alternatives, in the lurch. A clear regulatory signal gives all manufacturers an even playing field; so healthy products are not just a niche high-end market but standard practice. A glance again at Tom's diagram reminds me that federal clarity is also important for everyone's sanity. Focus on hazard characteristics and greener lists. While a good first step, ultimately we need to get beyond a red-list mentality. First by focusing on hazard endpoints (as illustrated by broadest circle--the Pharos part of the chart). Instead of replacing a listed carcinogen for an unlisted carcinogen we need to be assessing the hazard profile for all constituents and avoiding those that have the hazard characteristics of concern. Focus on the positive Going further, we need to be manufacturing and designing with a "green list" in mind: substituting chemicals and materials that are inherently safer, ideally with a long history of use (so as to not introduce completely new hazards (For example, we've written about emerging nanotechnology concerns). The Green Screen for Safer Chemistry by Clean Production Action provides benchmarks for rating chemicals on their hazard characteristics to point toward inherently safer and informs the Pharos scoring protocols that rank building products on the hazard characteristics of their contents. In the meantime, this is a really cool diagram that I hope helps you understand what each list does and doesn't cover should you be considering adopting a red list in your own work.






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