A push for safer building materials

May 6, 2022 – Environmental groups are encouraging schools and companies to use non-toxic materials in their construction and renovation projects, according to a May 2, 2022 Boston Globe article.

The goal is to reduce the use of chemicals such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used in flame retardants and stain repellents and which have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, and other health problems.

“Most people don’t realize when you buy a chair or carpet, it doesn’t come with an ingredient list like a food nutrition label,” Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Healthy Buildings program, told the Globe. “We want to know what’s in it.”

Anna Young, research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health and associate director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that it’s challenging to eliminate dangerous substances in buildings because of the issue of “chemical whack-a-mole.” She noted that as manufacturers phase out one chemical, they will often replace it with a similar one that later turns out to also pose risks.

“We know there are 4,700 types of PFAS on the market,” she said. “We are trying to reduce PFAS as an entire group of chemicals, instead of trying to regulate them one at a time.”

The article noted that Harvard’s sustainability team is advising HMFH, the Cambridge architecture firm designing the new Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School in Massachusetts, to help minimize the use of toxic chemicals in the project.

Read the Boston Globe article: ‘The more you dig into it, you think, Oh God.’ A growing missions seeks to reduce toxic chemicals in schools

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