Today’s buildings are nothing more than a chemical box

There are several chemicals that we encounter in some form or another in buildings today that are extremely harmful to its occupants.

There are many chemicals that are used in buildings today and we address some of the common ones:

  1. PVC - Chlorinated plastics (such as PVC) are a huge health hazard due to the dioxins they contain, which has some of the potent carcinogens known to mankind. As PVC is rigid, often plasticizers or softeners like Phthalates are added that are semi volatile organic compounds and adversely affect the human body systems. In buildings, we use PVCs and Phthalates in plumbing pipes, floor coverings, wall coverings, signages and other interior works. These materials are a significant health risk for occupants and need to be avoided.
  2. Polyurethane – Polyurethane, especially isocyanate based Polyurethane is extremely harmful to human inhalation, as it is made up of hazardous chemicals including formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) and Phosgene, which is a highly lethal that was used during World War I as a poison gas. In buildings, Polyurethane can be found in buildings in various applications including rigid foam insulation, paints and coatings, adhesives, sealants, elastomers, resin flooring, gaskets and other materials. It poses a huge risk to people and can severely affect occupants over an extended period of time
  3. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – VOCs are carbon compounds that can vaporize at normal room temperatures and hence tend to evaporate into the air over a period of time, where humans can breathe them and get affected. VOC emissions occur from various products including carpets, furniture, furnishings, paints & coatings, adhesives, sealants, and fabric. This can significantly affect the cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory, endocrine, immune and integumentary systems. Studies show that VOCs indoor are usually 5 times higher than outdoors and can impact human health
  4. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) – PFCs are found in furniture, furnishings, drapes, and curtains. These are harmful for humans and there have been several studies linking them to cancer and developmental damage in people.
  5. Prolybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) – PBDEs are used as flame retardants and is seriously linked to cancer effect on the immune, reproductive and endocrine systems.

There are thousands of other chemicals that directly affect the performance of individuals. The prescribed chemical levels indoor is listed in this table:

Already, there are talks about mandating Health Product Declarations (HPDs) for manufacturers similar to the Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are becoming more common per LEED v4 and other requirements. With greater awareness of the health issues in relationship to building materials, end users and designers can make more informed decisions.