The case for building material ingredient disclosure just got more urgent. The FDA just banned a suite of anti-bacterial ingredients, including the pesticide triclosan, from consumer products like liquid and bar soaps. Yet, this substance is commonly found in building materials and no one is under any obligation to share this vital information with designers and specifiers. That is where the voluntary disclosure of the component substances that make up building materials comes in. By encouraging the use of tools like Health Product Declarations (HPDs), designers are working to create a condition where building materials can be selected with concerns for health hazards like these in mind.
As reported by the Healthy Building Network (“FDA Rule Casts More Doubt On Anti-Microbial Building Products”), it took 40 years for the FDA to take this step to protect the public from these hazardous chemicals, yet they do not regulate building materials. That is the realm of the US EPA, who, to date, have declined to act on this public health issue. Triclosan, marketed under the benign-sounding trademark “Microban”, may be used in paints, carpets, engineered wood flooring and ceramic time. The Microban website proudly provides case studies of partnerships with well-known building materials manufacturers like Dal-Tile, DuPont, DAP and Silestone.
Yet, according to Healthy Building Network, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established its position on these antimicrobials in 2003 after a comprehensive study of infection control practice concluding: ‘No evidence is available to suggest that use of these [antimicrobial] products will make consumers and patients healthier or prevent disease. No data support the use of these items as part of a sound infection-control strategy.’”
With the urging of leading architects and designers, leading manufacturers are now declaring the chemistry of their products. The most complete collection of these declarations can be found in the HPD Library. Materials under consideration can be researched there to look for triclosan and other hazardous substances. Full knowledge of this chemistry can lead to better-informed material selections and, over time, to competition for market share based on greener chemistry.
This step by the FDA is welcomed. Until the EPA takes a similar position, we will need to rely on the diligence and advocacy of the design community to raise awareness of hazardous anti-bacterials.