Construction Just Got a Little More Healthy—Great News on the Elimination of Formaldehyde

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Formaldehyde—a human toxicant long used in residential fiberglass insulation—has made its last curtain call with such use.

A new report from the Healthy Building Network announced that the last remaining manufacturing plant to make residential fiberglass insulation with formaldehyde-based binder has changed to a different binder. So ends almost 80 years of the willful introduction into the built environment of what is now known to be a potent human toxicant via an otherwise valuable and benign product—fiberglass insulation.

Formaldehyde has played an interesting role in the recent history of the green building movement. It was the first substance whose avoidance was specifically rewarded in the LEED Green Building Rating System. Prior to its inclusion in Perkins + Will’s Precautionary List in 2009, the Living Building Challenge Red List in 2006, and the Cradle to Cradle Banned List in 2005, urea formaldehyde was specifically called out for avoidance in LEED version 1.0 in 1998 (Indoor Environmental Quality credit 2).

This is an example of our industry recognizing a substance as a health hazard and moving voluntarily toward its elimination. In this dysfunctional regulatory environment, formaldehyde is a political football even after all these years of recognizing it as a known carcinogen that can cause asthma and other respiratory ailments.

This is also an indication of the power of hazard assessment of building materials as championed by the Healthy Building Network, the International Living Future Institute, Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute and the Health Product Declaration Collaborative. As these groups shine a bright light on the substances that make up the products we use to build buildings, and point out the hazards, if they are known, the market can reward the industry partners who can creatively reformulate their product chemistry toward healthier alternative.

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