The U.S. Green Building Council recently released a LEED Pilot Credit for eliminating the use of halogenated flame retardants and phthalates in building materials. The credit calls for the elimination of several chemicals under each category, and can be used with the commercial LEED rating systems.
For documentation of the credit, project teams are asked to compare standard building materials with the selected materials without the chemicals. From that process they are to quantify the health effects to occupants using the selected materials, focusing on VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) or toxic content measured in consistent units. This analysis will assist USGBC in deciding whether the credit is having its intended effect.
Phthalates are added to plastics, such as PVC, to increase flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. They have gained recent notoriety for their use in bottled water bottles. They effect the body by changing hormone levels, and can cause birth defects.
Halogenated flame retardants are added to cloth, textiles, and furniture. They have been linked to liver, thyroid, and neurological issues. There are halogen-free methods of reducing flammability, such as fusing the chemicals with the materials so they cannot leak out.
The use of Pilot Credits allows the USGBC to essentially test drive a potential credit without releasing it. Based on feedback from project teams, the benefits can be measured and any issues addressed before it is included in the rating system. The next scheduled update to the LEED Rating System is in 2012.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Noble through a Creative Commons License.