Select Your Strategies
Material Health

The presence or absence of harmful chemical substances throughout the life cycle of building products.

According to the US EPA, materials and products account for the majority of indoor air pollution, a serious health problem.1 For example, the construction industry accounts for 70% of the worldwide market for formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.2 This is a particular problem in China, where studies show that over two thirds of families have excessive exposure to formaldehyde and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), mostly due to resins in cabinets and other wood products.3 Until a decade ago, pressure-treated wood was the most common source of arsenic exposure in the US, and today PVC (polyvinyl chloride)—or vinyl—is the single largest material source of the carcinogen dioxin.4 A priority strategy to promote health is to use building materials and products that are either free of such chemicals or contain only acceptable amounts.

Furthermore, many materials can have harmful effects prior to their arrival at a building. All along the life cycle of material production—extraction (removing from the earth), refining, manufacturing, shipping, and assembly—people are exposed to these substances, the chemicals used to treat them, and their byproducts. By understanding more about what is in products, where they come from, and how they are made, we can make better, healthier choices.

However, many manufacturers either do not know or do not share this information, which is why many designers are encouraging manufacturers to be more transparent about their products and processes. To support this effort, RTKL is a founding sponsor of the Health Product Declaration (HPD), the first open reporting standard for chemical content in building materials.