CATHERINE BOBENHAUSEN is an Authorized GreenScreen Practitioner at Vidaris, Inc. She also serves on the Technical Committee of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative. She can be reached at (212) 689-5389 or Acknowledgment: the author thanks Tom Lent of the Healthy Building Network for his review of this article.
Harmonization in Green Building Tools for Assessing Chemical Hazards in Building Products
Driven by global and national harmonization efforts and collaboration among multiple stakeholders, a shared vocabulary for identifying chemical hazards is emerging. GHS—the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, the landmark international mandate resulting from the 1992 Earth Summit—was impelled by these visionary guiding principles:
  • protection will not be reduced
  • protection will be based on intrinsic properties (hazards) of chemicals
  • all types of chemicals will be covered
  • all systems will have to change
  • involvement of all stakeholders should be ensured
  • comprehensibility must be addressed
With the June 2015 rollout of new Safety Data Sheets using GHS, greater harmonization with global scientific research and classification of hazards began in force.
Similarly, in the building products sphere, the Material Health Harmonization Task Group (HTG) has made significant progress in harmonizing tools that manufacturers can use in the transition to inherently safer building products. Version 4 of the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEEDv4) certification program includes a material transparency credit to reward project teams for selecting products for which “the chemical ingredients … are inventoried, using an accepted methodology” and for products “verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances.” In its “Harmonization Opportunities Report,” the HTG concluded that a shared platform for product content inventory and chemical hazard analysis “can be developed to create a comprehensive single portal of entry for manufacturers and a single repository for hazard classification data.” It also outlined efforts to develop a “universally applicable taxonomy for the purpose of product content inventory” using recognized terms from GHS; the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive; EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program; and others. The expected outcomes of the HTG harmonization work include elimination of redundancy, lower costs for manufacturers, and the basis for a unified community of practice for chemical hazard assessment and material health profilers/assessors. The benefits include discovery of synergies between the leading systems, enhanced interoperability between programs, and enhanced market value based on clarification of the singular role of each program. TOOLS FOR ASSESSING CHEMICALS Several tools are available to inventory, screen, assess, and optimize chemical ingredients and hazards. Some set progressive levels of certification for products, while others classify the hazards of chemical ingredients in the product. Each of the following programs plays critical roles during one or more of these steps, each is referenced in LEEDv4, and representatives from each participated in the HTG with support from the U.S. Green Building Council and Google:
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) and GreenScreen (GS) incorporate full hazard assessments to assign hazard rankings to chemicals, building on the GHS and extending it to cover a more complete set of health endpoints. The GreenScreen List Translator provides a quick screening methodology for finding known chemicals of highest concern using a set of rated authoritative scientific lists. The C2C and GS full assessments rank chemicals, mixtures, and polymeric materials and their transformation products based on human health hazard endpoints, physical hazards, environmental health, and environmental fate (including persistence and bioaccumulation). Both C2C and GS are used in the LEEDv4 material ingredient optimization credit.
The majority opinion in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO, v. American Petroleum Institute et. al. read:
"If ... the odds are one in a billion that a person will die from cancer by taking a drink of chlorinated water, the risk clearly could not be considered significant. On the other hand, if the odds are one in a thousand that regular inhalation of gasoline vapors that are 2% benzene will be fatal, a reasonable person might well consider the risk significant."
An article in the AIHA 75th Anniversary supplement to the September 2014 Synergist that discusses the one-in-a-thousand risk benchmark for OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits is available in the Synergist archives on the AIHA website (login required).