Building Industry driving toxic Chlorine and PVC production.

This is why we have Red Lists and transparency programmes such as Declare and material verification schemes such as EPD, REACH, Cradle to Cradle etc …

All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals (*)

We talk of sustainable procurement, of healthy buildings, of greater transparency in what we specify and procure and of eliminating toxic materials from construction but, as the recently published Healthy Building Network overview of the global Chlorine and PVC markets demonstrates, we have a long way to go – and its scary. (Part One of the HBN report covers North and South America, Africa, and Europe, with Part Two later this year covering Asia and Rest of the World)

cover.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scale

As the HBN notes:

  • Chlorine is inherently highly toxic.
  • Chlorine production uses and releases mercury, asbestos, or other highly toxic pollutants. (Mercury use has significantly declined, but the US still imports 480 tons of asbestos per year for diaphragms, primarily from Russia.)
  • Combining chlorine with carbon-based materials creates environmental health impacts that are difficult if not impossible to solve.

And, it is the the building sector is propping up a ‘toxic’ chlorine and PVC global market … 

Market data indicate that, as many industrial uses of chlorine decline due to environmental health concerns, market de-selection, and stricter regulations, the market share of chlorine used in PVC and certain other products has increased. Today, most of the chlorine produced in the world is used to make four plastics: PVC, epoxies, polycarbonate, and polyurethane.

PVC contains nearly 60% chlorine by weight, and most PVC is manufactured for use in building products. Indeed, chlorine and building industry analysts agree that because building trends drive PVC demand, and PVC demand drives chlorine production, it can fairly be said that the building-products industry drives chlorine production levels and its attendant environmental and human health impacts.

pvc-pipe-1172534_960_720

Chlorine Production Technologies

There are four industrial processes that can be used to create chlorine gas. The oldest technologies use either mercury or asbestos. The two newer technologies (introduced in the 1970s) use diaphragms or membranes coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Most chlorine produced in Europe and Africa comes from PFAS-coated membrane technology. The main chlor- alkali producers in Africa do not use mercury cells or asbestos diaphragms. In Europe, exemptions to regulations that otherwise prohibit asbestos and mercury-based technologies allow the largest chlor-alkali plant to continue to use asbestos, and at least five other locations will continue using mercury into the foreseeable future.

Approximately 45% of chlorine production capacity in the Americas, including 8 of the 12 largest plants in operation, use asbestos diaphragms. Seven of these 8 are located on the US Gulf Coast. The other is in Brazil, which is phasing out asbestos mining. The US plants have relied upon Brazilian asbestos and soon will depend upon asbestos mined in Russia.

Chlorine-Based Pollution:

While all petroleum-based products are associated with industrial pollution, the introduction of chlorine and chlorine-based substances adds an additional pollution burden that is uniquely associated with chlorine.

This begins with the manufacturing of the chlorine itself. Over 400 tons of chlorine gas are released per year by chlor-alkali facilities in the US and Canada. Asbestos and mercury releases are well documented from the plants employing those antiquated technologies, which pollute the environment and poison people throughout the lifecycle, from mining, to distribution, to use, and finally, to recycling or disposal operations.

… “forever chemicals”

The more modern technologies employ machinery coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are highly toxic and long-lived chemicals that are coming under increasing scrutiny. The Harvard School of Public Health has issued warnings about these “forever chemicals” as used in consumer products such as Teflon, and as stain and water repellents on carpeting and upholstery. Because PFAS are not regulated at the point of use at chlorine manufacturing plants, there are no reported PFAS emissions or waste. However, PFAS have been detected in the effluent from the main US manufacturer of membranes used in chlorine plants.

… the additional burden of PVC production

The use of chlorine for PVC production creates additional burdens, generating organochlorine waste and by products. These chemicals are not broken down by natural systems, and typically last for generations in the environment. Many of them also build up in the ecosystem, including fish, wildlife, and humans, and are toxic at low doses. In addition to polluting the local environment near the facilities that release them, these chemicals can also be transported around the globe. One of them, carbon tetrachloride, is an ozone-depleting chemical and potent global-warming gas.

Additionally, PVC plastic production plays a role in the growing concern about microplastic ocean pollution through the factory discharge of PVC resins, in the form of small plastic pellets, into waterways.

Moving Forward: “When we know better, we can do better”

While environmentalists, building owners, architects and designers, and building-product manufacturers differ in their opinions on the avoidance of PVC, there is widespread and growing support for the elimination of mercury and asbestos from the supply chain of PVC and other chlorine-based products. A public global inventory of chlorine and VCM producers, and associated documented pollution, is a necessary first step for taking action.

HBN is providing this report, and accompanying online materials, spreadsheets, and map, as full open-access content. This data can help manufacturers to avoid chemicals derived from toxic technologies, scientists to fill gaps in understanding on the material flow of pollutants like PFAS and carbon tetrachloride, and communities to connect with others who, like them, face daily pollution from the chlorine and PVC industry.


(*) HBN Vision: All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals

The HBN Report can be downloaded and read from here. 

See also the excellent Lloyd Alter detailed article in TreeHugger:

Report from Healthy Building Network slams PVC production

Making vinyl and other plastics releases dangerous pollutants. Do they belong in green buildings?

PVC, often called vinyl, has long been controversial in the sustainable design and green building worlds. It’s red-listed in the Living Building Challenge and the Cradle to Cradle certification system, and the attempt by the LEED people to limit its use in buildings almost brought down the whole certification system.

Health and Wellness Rating System Comparison

This very useful comparison infographic was published recently on Building Green.  Although US and LEED based, it demonstrates the scope of the emerging rating systems that address, measure and promote healthy building and facility approaches, in planning, design, construction, building in use. Note the infographic on Building Green is interactive with more information.

health-wellness

More:

Living Building Challenge 3.1 Standard

Well 2.0

Fitwel

BREEAM / Well CrossWalk 

 

5 reasons why walking is good for physical and mental wellbeing — Wild about Scotland

It’s official: nature is good for you. In fact, according to England’s Chief Medical Officer in 2010: “If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity, it would be regarded as a “wonder drug” or a “miracle cure”’. But nature isn’t just a remedy for a healthy body, it also nurtures a […]

Re-blogged from

5 reasons why walking is good for physical and mental wellbeing — Wild about Scotland

Materials in Buildings: the impact on health of those who work, learn and play within them.

pexels-photo-206290

“the next phase of market transformation for the built environment is going to be led by material performance …” 

Health and wellbeing issues relating to the materials we specify, purchase, build with and dispose of has been increasingly arising in discussions of late. These may be within CSR, Environmental ISO workshops or in events such as the Specifi series (recent London). Indeed it is unusual for wellbeing in relation to materials not to be on the agenda for sustainability events.

In addition, within sustainability related meetings with clients, contractors and facilities management organisations, the issue of material health raises, often in reference to Grenfell, asking the question – do we really know the wider impacts on what we specifi, build with, maintain, replace  or dispose of?

Alongside this there is a rapidly growing interest in health related material standards such as Declare, RedList, Portico Fitwell and Well

A welcome addition to the debate is the (forthcoming) Materials Wellography from the Well Build people at IWBI. Below is an extract from their recent blog release which provides a very useful insight to the importance of materials and products we work with day in and day out.

Materials WELLography; your guide to the connection between the materials and products that make up the built environment, and the effect they have on the health of those who work, learn and play within them.

Materials make up our world. Much of the industrialized world is built from man-made, industrial chemicals. The chemical industry converts raw materials into more than 70,000 different chemical substances that make up our world. As the global population increases and urban centers expand, so do both the demand for manufactured goods and the rate of chemical production, which is projected to grow three times faster than the global population and to double every 25 years.1

The quantity and variety of chemicals on the global market makes the task of tracking chemical hazards both critical and extremely difficult. An estimated 95% of chemicals, used largely in construction, lack sufficient data on human health effects.,2 Although various countries apply their own framework for the management of chemical production and use, these are not harmonized globally, so different chemicals are regulated to different extents in different countries.

Life cycle of building materials and exposure hazards. Exposure to harmful chemicals can happen at various stages in the lifecycle of a commercial material or product. Below is an example of this lifecycle:

  1. Exposure can occur when contaminants are released into the environment during manufacturing or materials extraction.3, 4, 5, 6
  2. Throughout occupancy of a built space, chemicals used in furniture, furnishings, paints, adhesives and coatings can off-gas and end up in indoor dust, compromising air quality. 7,8,9,19 Proper ventilation practices and materials selection can help minimize indoor air contaminants. For more information on the benefits of adequate ventilation, refer to the Air WELLography
  3. Finish, maintenance and renovation work often involve dust-laden contaminants, fumes, solvents and gases. This is especially problematic in the absence of the exposure and ventilation controls typically required in production or construction settings.
  4. Construction and demolition work often include exposure to large amounts of dust (made up or and carrying chemical substances), as well as solvents, and other hazardous substances, for example those  associated with use of diesel-powered heavy equipment 10,20. Fortunately, improved awareness of exposure risks in maintenance, renovation and demolition has prompted additional work safety measures through various voluntary standards.

Environmental and Health Impacts. Chemicals used in building materials and byproducts made during their manufacture can persist in the environment. Even small concentrations of these chemicals can find their way into organisms in high enough doses to cause damage. The accumulation of toxicants in water or soil has implications for human health as these chemicals can advance up the food chain and accumulate in human tissue. 14

Long-term, large-scale biomonitoring studies have helped to show the impact of policy changes on human exposure risks. For example, a Swedish study involving long-term testing of human breast milk for the presence of the pesticide DDT and its residues has shown a significant decrease of the chemical following its restriction and later ban. A gradual decrease in PCB is also evident, likely due to efforts to move away from the chemical across the European Union. In contrast to the decline of these two chemicals over time, concentrations of the flame retardant PBDE was found to increase along the same timeline, consistent with increased across EU states. 21

Market forces at work. As evidence of the environmental hazards and health issues related to chemicals accumulates 15, an increasing number of hazard assessment tools emerge in the building material sector. These evaluation tools are being introduced and used in the marketplace as means to differentiate products and ingredients with lower hazards and to certify greener chemical ingredients in consumer products. Despite gaps in data and regulation, the good news is that we have a growing repository of tools at our disposal that can provide direction in understanding the tradeoffs of materials and products over their life cycle.

Careful evaluation and selection of building materials and products is an important and effective first step to identifying safer materials across installation, use, maintenance and disposal. In the long run, the call for the prioritization and responsibility of advancing safer chemicals and sustainable materials can lead to an improved, data-rich market, comprehensive regulations and policy reforms and a shift towards safer chemicals and investment in green chemistry.

Access the full IWBI article here. And download the excellent Well App for news and articles.

References noted above can be found via the IWBI article.

What hurts, what helps, what heals: the Built Environment and mental health.

With respect to  Mental Health Awareness Week,  Erin Newton’s excellent article in UD/MH (Urban Design / Mental Health) caught my attention. Erin notes that the built environment can create and maintain risk factors for mental illness by stripping away protective factors for good mental health, for example through:

Reducing access to nature
Reducing opportunities for physical activity
Overloading the senses
Eroding privacy and quiet time
Interrupting sleep
Reducing safety (from crime to traffic to way finding)
Separating people from their social networks

buildings
The Built Environment can strip away protective factors for good mental health

As noted in my last blog post, this can lead to an increased state of distress, a solastalgia and yearning for natural environments we recall from the past, further impacting on mental health.

Yet, with  with biophilic design and salutogenic approaches, by focusing on what improves mental health, rather than only just reducing the negative impacts, Erin suggests that as built environment professionals designers, contractors and facilities managers we need to be knowledgeable about what hurts, what helps, what heals and to;

Recognise environment affects the mind, the body and perception.
Boost cognitive health by creating visually and aesthetically pleasing buildings & cities.
Advocate for buildings, spaces, cities and communities that have plenty of fresh air, good light and green spaces, while reducing noise and visual pollution through good design.
Create buildings and places for refuge, escape and outlet.
Design places that facilitate people talking to each other in positive, natural social interactions.
Improve mental health by creating safe, walkable communities.

And mental health issues are not only limited to building design and buildings in use, but also the construction process. . I am reminded of Anne Parkers astute contribution to FutuREstorative where she comments ‘I see your wonderful Sustainable buildings shining bright, then I look at your Project Managers and project team and I see the light not so bright and dimming’

Erin Newton is a UD/MH Fellow and part of NK Architects Healthcare Group in Morristown, New Jersey, USA

FutuREstorative is available in hard copy and electronic format from RIBA Bookshops

Healthy Buildings and Wellness: 12 Insights

Alison Nicholls, Associate Director, Constructing Excellence, put together the following, excellent summary of the recent Heathy Buildings and Wellness event held on the 31st January 2017.  The event was hosted Aecom at their Aldgate Tower offices, designed to meet the very latest standards in healthy buildings and wellness.

The business case behind healthy buildings and investing in standards such as WELL, BREEAM and the Living Building Challenge, as well as the demand for healthy buildings and the practicalities of delivery in both new and existing buildings and future implications for regulations and law were explored.

Here are the top things learnt during the workshop:

  1. Changing buildings is a great opportunity to instigate healthy changes
    Dave Cheshire from Aecom looked at how making making healthier choices easier for employees could help make them healthier, more productive and more resilient to stressful life and work events. Aecom are implementing solutions to encourage people to live well, both for their own staff and on client projects.
  2. Take the investment conversations up a level
    Dave’s top tip for making the business case was to take the conversation up a tier to those who have a more holistic view of the business investments. Engaging the Human Resources department at can help justify expenditure that might add cost to the capital budget but will save significant amounts over the long term occupation of the building.
  3. Circadian rhythms – mimicking nature
    As part of the British Antarctic Survey project Aecom looked at how intelligent lighting solutions could mimic natural daylight patterns in order to trigger the hormones that set our natural body clock. This is particularly important in a building where it’s pretty dark for six months of the year, however this learning can equally be applied to night workers or office buildings where natural light doesn’t penetrate deep into the building floor plates.
  4. People don’t always understand the risks
    Isabella Myers gave a public health perspective on the link between buildings and health and wellbeing. She flagged up the risks of delivering interventions when occupants were often resistant to changes and not necessarily convinced of the risks to their health from problems such as leaky boilers and fuel combustion. This can come in many forms including deaths from carbon monoxide and neuropsychiatric symptoms from long term exposure to toxins.
  5. Our strategies to save carbon may have made it worse
    Isabella reminded us that some of the strategies that have been employed to save energy and carbon dioxide have led to more airtight homes and buildings have caused the build-up of toxins that can impact people’s health.
  6. Healthy Buildings attract premium tenants
    Anita Mitchell Head of Sustainability for Lendlease Europe spoke about increasing market demand for healthy buildings. On a recent project in Sydney major clients in the financial services and blue-chip companies were demanding high levels of WELL Buildings Standard. Eventually this could lead to devaluing property that does not support health and wellbeing.
  7. Speculative developments can still be healthy
    The strategy to deliver WELL-Ready core and shell schemes enables tenants to implement their own health and wellbeing strategies in order to meet the WELL Building Standard.
  8. Health & Wellbeing cuts across the political divide
    Health and wellbeing impacts on social and economic sustainability, therefore both sides of the political divide can support the agenda, on the one hand it benefits society and on the other it delivers bottom-line economic benefits.
  9. Don’t forget the construction process
    Martin Brown from Fairsnape reminded us that whilst the end product needs to support wellbeing there is a requirement not to forget how the built environment is constructed, the toxicity of materials used and the people who build them. While we have made huge progress in terms of onsite health and safety, the industry has one of the highest mental health and suicide rates after agriculture.
  10. Biomimicry
    There is a lot we can learn from nature and how it functions in order to reproduce natural patterns and deliver healthier and better performing buildings. For example the Living Building Challenge certified Bullitt Centre in Seattle mimics the effect of a tree canopy to limit exposure to overheating and solar glare.
  11. Data can help
    By mapping physical data sets from BIM with biological datasets from the health sector and fitness trackers etc. a really rich picture of how buildings and the built environment are impacting on people’s health and wellbeing is emerging, and providing data for health improvement. There are lots of ways in which existing buildings can be improved to increase the health and wellbeing of the occupants. BRE is carrying out a research project on a real life Biophilic office refurbishment assessing the health and wellbeing of occupants before and after various interventions.
  12. WELL & BREEAM setting the standard
    BREEAM and WELL have been working together to establish common factors and areas of mutual recognition for elements of their respective standards. Chris Ward provided an overview of progress including an initial mapping exercise that has been published in a technical guidance document.This will lead to further collaborative work to ensure that health and wellbeing are an even more integral part of the BREEAM standard going forward.

The group will meet again in April to look at how innovative, healthy and sustainable materials are being specified and how that process can be improved to ensure that clients and specifiers increase their understanding and demand innovative products and materials.

The original constructing excellence post and presentations can be viewed here 

Related:

FutuREstorative – Working Towards a New Sustainability

WELL & BREEAM announce alignment for credits: more good or less bad?

Mindfulness, Biophilia and Salutogenesis: a powerful triptych for improving construction health and happiness

 

Mindfulness, Biophilia and Salutogenesis: a powerful triptych for improving construction health and happiness

pexels-photo-94616Increasingly health is becoming a key aspect and driver for building design and maintenance. (See Next Wave of Design: Wellness-minded Spaces)

OF note, are seeing a BREEAM alignment with WELL, but as pointed out in FutuREstorative, and by others, this approach needs to equally apply to the construction process, to project working environments, including project office accommodation.

Mindfulness, Biophilia and Salutogenesis can provide a powerful triptych of approaches for construction health and happiness. But what are they, and how can they improve construction?

Mindfulness

The state of being present in the moment. Mindfulness can help in reducing stress and mind-wandering in addition to enhancing the sense of wellbeing and fulfilment from life and work. Mindfulness is growing in use within other sectors to address amongst other things wellbeing, productivity and safety.

(In collaboration with Anne Parker, we can provide tailored Mindfulness for Construction awareness and training sessions)

Biophilia

Our innate relationship with nature. Research is proving that connection or exposure to nature or natural patterns has a huge influence on our state of mind, our wellbeing, cognitive skills and our recovery times from illness. We should for example, be applying the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design to construction workplaces as part of a healthy construction agenda

Salutogenesis

FutuREstorative introduces the concept of salutogenesis to the built environment. A medical concept that encourages focus on factors that improve & support health and then keeping people healthy, rather than the focus of just reducing the impact on health. Translated to the built environment this can mean focusing on design issues in buildings and workplaces where people go home healthier, feeling better and happier than when they arrived. As an example, the growing recognition that light (daylight and circadian light) can be a medicine, having positive, even healing benefits. Adopting a salutogenetic mindset to the construction process can also encourage us to consider and focus on potential health benefits of working in construction.

salutogenesis-slide