Green Building News

Green Building News February 2003

February 19, 2003

CPSC Says Treated Wood May Cause Cancer

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a statement in early February stating that CPSC scientists have determined that chromated copper arsenate (CCA) pressure-treated wood may cause cancer in some children. A Commission Briefing is scheduled for March 12, 2003 to consider a petition to ban the use of CCA-treated wood in playground equipment.

The Commissioners have received a report from CPSC scientists that finds "some children may face an increased risk of developing lung or bladder cancer over their lifetime from playing on playground equipment made from CCA-treated wood." Exposure to CCA-treated wood is only one of many factors that affect lifetime cancer risk.

CPSC staff states this increased risk to children is primarily due to exposure to arsenic residue on children's hands followed by hand-to-mouth contact. The report says transfer of the arsenic from the hand to the mouth can occur during and after playing on pressure-treated wood playground equipment. To minimize the risk of exposure to arsenic from CCA-treated playground equipment, the staff recommends that parents and caregivers thoroughly wash children's hands with soap and water immediately after playing on CCA pressure-treated wood playground equipment. In addition, the staff recommends that children not eat while on CCA-treated wood playground equipment.

The CPSC statement differs from the position of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who said last year that existing playground equipment posed no risk to children.

The CPSC staff has recommended that the Commissioners defer action on the petition, pending finalization of the agreement between CCA manufacturers and the EPA to phase out CCA treatment of wood for most consumer uses by the end of 2003. EPA expects to finalize this agreement in the near future and staff plans to assess its impact. EPA is conducting a study of the risks, which may be associated with CCA-treated wood. EPA's report is expected later this year.

Several playground companies have already begun to use wood treated with arsenic-free preservatives, such as ammonium copper quaternary (ACQ). In addition, playground structures can be made of other materials that don't contain arsenic, such as naturally rot-resistant wood (redwood and cedar), metal, plastic, and composite materials. All of these materials could be used for new construction.

Meanwhile, the Treated Wood Council called the CPSC statement "premature," and says that it stands by the safety of CCA-treated wood, when handled properly. Citing numerous CCA studies by government and industry now underway, the Treated Wood Council questions CPSC's decision to release information before the scientific findings from these additional studies are in.

For additional information see the CPSC fact sheet. Also see previous Green Building News items in August 2002, February 2002 and July 2001.


CSI Receives Presidential Award for ACQ Wood Treatment

Last year, the United States Environmental Protection Agency granted a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award to Chemical Specialties, Inc. (CSI), based in Charlotte, NC. They were recognized for its non-arsenic wood preservative, Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ).

Steve Ainscough, President and CEO, CSI, accepted the award on behalf of CSI, and the entire ACQ product development team at a ceremony held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

"On behalf of the entire CSI family of employees, I would like to thank the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge committee for their recognition of the ACQ technology," said Mr. Ainscough. "The wood preservative industry has experienced tremendous change over the last several months and CSI is proud to play a significant role in the industry's transition to new generation wood preservatives with the development of the ACQ technology."

ACQ wood preservatives are used to manufacture Preserve® and Preserve Plus brand wood products. ACQ has become established as a widely used new generation wood preservative with projected sales approaching 1 billion board feet of ACQ treated wood in the U.S. in 2002.

"Our market leadership position with ACQ is based on our ongoing commitment to produce advanced preservation technology to meet the changing demands of the industry and the consumer market for treated wood products," said and Dave Fowlie, Vice President, CSI. "CSI is working closely with customers and distributors, as well as specifiers and end users of treated wood products to ensure a smooth transition to the new generation ACQ preservative."

Currently, there are over 500 retail outlets throughout the US that supply Preserve and Preserve Plus treated wood to the consumer and contractor market. Preserve with ACQ is standardized and accepted by the American Wood Preservers Association, the Canadian Standards Association and major building codes throughout North America.

"The ACQ formulation offers equivalent performance against biological hazards, such as decay and termite attack, to traditional preservative formulations that contained arsenic and hexavalent chromium," states Dr. Alan Preston, Vice President of Technology, CSI.

Preserve treated wood is less costly than cedar, redwood or plastic/composite alternatives, and initially weathers to an attractive natural-brown color before turning gray following long-term exposure to the sun. Preserve is easy to use in any application where decay and termite resistant construction materials are required. It can be stained or painted, and scraps may be disposed of through regular trash collection. Preserve Plus is also available with built-in water repellent to enhance the weathering properties of the treated wood.

The ACQ formulation has gained wide spread international acceptance with its use in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For more than a decade, Preserve treated wood has been used in some of the world's most environmentally sensitive locations. From the pristine environments of national parks and world heritage listed locations in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia, to neighborhood playgrounds and backyards, Preserve treated wood has been used to provide a durable building product for outdoor projects where environmental values are a priority.

Bridge Shows That the Future is in Plastics

The world's first vehicular bridge built entirely from recycled plastic was recently completed in the the Wharton State Forest, New Jersey. While "plastic lumber" has been available for more than a decade, few products can carry a structural load, and those with structural capacity use fiberglass additives.

TheWharton Forest bridge uses I-beams made with 65 percent high-density polyethylene (milk jugs and detergent bottles) and 35 percent expanded polystyrene (coffee cups and packing peanuts). Either material alone would never be strong enough to support the structure itself. This one-lane bridge will hold a fire truck.

This plastic has a number of advantages over steel bridge construction. It stands up to the weather without painting or other treatment -- a thin layer forms on the surface of the composite that protects it from the elements. The color blends nicely with the natural environment. The material is nearly 100 percent recycled content.

Rutgers University's Center for Advanced Materials via Immiscible Polymer Processing developed the material in one of those scientific "accidents" that you often hear about. Professors Thomas Nosker and Richard Renfree lead the team that was experimenting with different combinations of the two materials. Athough most of their samples crumbled quickly, one had a unique matrix structure. Pursuing this idea lead to a patent and new company -- Polywood -- to develop and market the material.


Green Building Resource Guide Online

There's no shortage of information about green building, if you know where to look. As a "green" builder and consultant in Corvallis, Oregon, Rick Barnett has been promoting sustainable building for six years. He regularly encountered people who complained that they just didn't have enough information about the subject. So, he created a resource guide that directs people to the wealth of information on the topic.

"My basic purpose with this document was to put enough information in one place that no one could use "the lack of information" as an excuse for not building green," said Barnett. "Of course, there's more information and more websites, but I think this has enough to satisfy any sincere inquiry into the subject."

The Green Building Source Guide has a introduction covering a list of specific subjects, such as  why build green, establishing sustainable goals, locating qualified professionals, generating project team support, green building practices for affordable housing and achieving sustainable goals.  The information part is a long list of Web sites.  This Guide is different from other lists in three ways. First, it separates information more useful to building professionals from information more useful to housing organization managers or other decision makers. Second, it includes a short description of what can be found at the site. Third, to help guide the user, it breaks the information down into other sub-categories.

The Green Building Source Guide can be downloaded from the Oregon Housing and Community Service Web site.


Ape Sanctuary Will Help Humans Too

Architectural designs were released in January for one of the largest great ape sanctuaries to be constructed in North America. The initial phase of the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (IPLS) will be built in Des Moines by year's end and will incorporate extensive "green design" initiatives for conservation and environmental sustainability.

"With the plight of the great apes as our moral compass, we've assembled some of the brightest minds in the world to create a sanctuary that will deliver an honorable home for primates and set the standards for conservation efforts worldwide," says Ted Townsend, IPLS founder and Des Moines businessman. "Through preservation, research and education, we will offer the world the experience of a new reality."

Two noteworthy consulting firms, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Conservation Design Forum (CDF), will analyze the environmental and ecological aspects of the project. RMI, based in Snowmass, Colorado, is an entrepreneurial, nonprofit organization that fosters the efficient and restorative use of resources to create a more secure, prosperous, and life-sustaining world.

"One of the reasons the great apes are so endangered is the destruction of their habitat for building materials," says Bill Browning, founder of RMI's Green Development Services. "We will build the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary in a way that doesn't exacerbate that problem and demonstrates a better way. While people will come to study these extraordinary creatures, the buildings will also be teaching tools about environmental issues."

Conservation Design Forum (CDF) of Chicago is a nationally-recognized firm specializing in the creative integration of environmentally and culturally sustainable land planning, design and development techniques.

"This will not only be a refuge and sanctuary for great apes but also for the threatened, endangered and historical plant and animal life of Iowa -- conservation, education, stewardship and sustainability must occur at home. " says Jim Patchett, CDF founder and president. "One of the most important outreach opportunities for this site will be the ability to reconnect Iowans with an appreciation and understanding of the unique cultural and natural heritage of the state."

Located approximately five miles southeast of downtown Des Moines, IPLS will be constructed on 137 acres of land once used as a sand and gravel quarry. The property was conveyed to IPLS by the City of Des Moines in 2002.

Leo A Daly, an international architectural firm headquartered in Omaha, Neb., has developed a remarkably innovative design that calls for the creation of several islands on the site -- each island will serve as home to one of the great ape species: bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. To combat the harsh Iowa winters, buildings on each island will be connected by heated passageways or tunnels called ApeWalks.


Green Building Council Announces Board

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently announced the election results for its new Board of Directors for the upcoming year. These individuals are leaders in their fields chosen by the membership for their record of achievement and commitment to the issues of interest to USGBC and market transformation.

The newly elected board members include: Lynne Barker, City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment; David Eisenberg, Development Center for Appropriate Technology; Jim Goldman, Turner Construction Company; Jim Hartzfeld, Interface Americas, Inc.; Kevin Hydes, Keen Engineering; Tom Paladino, Paladino & Company, Inc.; Thomas Scarola, Tishman Speyer Properties; Joe Van Belleghem, JVB Development; Paul von Paumgartten, Johnson Controls, Inc; and Alex Wilson, BuildingGreen, Inc. Newly-elected members join thirteen other Directors whose terms had not yet expired or who are ex-officio members.

The new Board also elected Officers to serve in 2003. Jim Hartzfeld was elected Chairman; Mary Tucker of City of San Jose and Kath Williams of Montana State University were named Vice Chairs; Paul von Paumgartten was voted Treasurer; and Alex Wilson was elected Secretary.

The rich diversity of the 25-member board reflects the building industry and includes building owners, product manufacturers, builders, developers, state and local government, as well as various professional firms. The Board governs on behalf of the membership by fulfilling the mission of the organization, determining its future direction and assuring the organization's fiscal health.


Availability of High-Efficiency Gas Furnaces Hits All-Time High

With the likelihood of a more stringent federal standard looming and the demands for energy-saving equipment increasing, manufacturers are producing more high-efficiency residential gas furnaces than ever before. According to research by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), 22 percent of all available models are rated at 90 percent Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) or higher, compared to just 12 percent in 1998.

In its High-Efficiency Residential Gas Heating Initiative, CEE defines a high-efficiency gas furnace as one rated at 90 percent AFUE or above. There are currently 22 utilities and energy organizations promoting highefficiency residential gas heating through the CEE initiative.

“We’re thrilled to see the increase in the number of efficient furnaces on the market,” said Stephanie Jones, CEE Program Manager for Residential Gas Heating. “With more high-efficiency products available, consumers should have an easier time choosing a furnace that can save them money in heating their homes.”

Energy savings from efficient furnaces can vary greatly, depending on local climate. High-efficiency heating equipment makes the most sense in cooler climates where it is used more frequently. In Portland, Oregon, for example, an efficient gas furnace can save $127 a year. Since many gas furnaces last 20 years or more, savings can really add up over the lifetime of the equipment. The current federal minimum efficiency is 78 percent AFUE but the U.S. Department of Energy is researching a possible revision, which could be finalized as early as 2004.

Responding to this market trend toward higher efficiency, CEE revised the performance levels for furnaces within its Residential Gas Heating Initiative in October 2002, setting tiers at 90, 92, and 94 percent AFUE. CEE’s original specification, set in 1998, was 90 percent AFUE. This approach allows local energy-efficiency programs to be tailored to specific climate differences. Check with your local utility for programs promoting high-efficiency appliances and practices.


Appliance Use Reports Updated

The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) has updated nine regional reports on the use of appliances in the United States. The EIA's "Appliance Reports" are brief statistical reports in which long-term U.S. trends in the use of air-conditioning units and about two dozen appliances are compared with the trends in each U.S. Census Division. The Pacific region, for instance, uses less air conditioning than the rest of the country, and the Southeast (the South Atlantic and East South Central regions) relies more on electricity and less on natural gas than the United States as a whole. The latest update incorporates data from a survey performed in 2001.


Consumers Getting More Product Info from TV and Internet

Consumers of home improvement products are relying more on mass media, specifically television and Internet, to gather information about building materials. The February issue of Builder Magazine reported the latest tracking poll of the Home Improvement Research Institute which shows a steady trend away from material suppliers and home improvement professionals as a source of product information. From 1994 to 2002 the percentage of homeowners using manufacturer or retailer brochures declined from 44 percent to 39 percent, home improvement retailers dropped from 41 to 31 percent, and professionals slid from 38 to 26 percent. During that same period, consumers seeking product information from TV and cable programs grew from 25 to 34 percent. The Internet wasn't included in the earlier years, but 2002 saw 19 percent of consumers using it as a source of product information.

U.S. Navy Installs 1.1 MW Solar Generation System

A measley two-letter acromyn, such as PV (meaning photovoltaic), is nothing by military standards. MAGTFTC (Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command) located near Twentynine Palms, Calif. will be home to a new PV generation system. The 1.1 MW photovoltaic plant will be one of the highest capacity non-utility solar power plants in the world. The plant's photovoltaic cell array will require six to eight acres of land on the base. The array will be used to supplement electric capacity during peak load periods. It can supply approximately one-fifteenth of the base's annual electricity requirements.

Johnson Controls Government Systems LLC has been awarded the contract for the third phase of a comprehensive energy and facility system upgrade program at MAGTFTC. The contract, valued at approximately $51 million, is one of the largest single Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPC) ever awarded by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Contracts office, which administers ESPC for Navy and Marine Corps facilities. ESPCs allow federal government agencies to fund improvements from energy savings and energy-related operational savings using standard performance guarantees.

It is estimated that the total ESPC program will save the base about $6.9 million each year over the course of the contract's 20-year term, for a total savings of $138 million. This phase will include construction and maintenance of three chilled water plants, a photovoltaic plant, solar daylighting and an energy management system.

With summer temperatures occasionally reaching more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, adequately controlling indoor environments can significantly affect the productivity of those working at Twentynine Palms.

"These upgrades will make the living conditions for the Marines more comfortable, and reliable. We're at the end of the electrical distribution system, our power comes from Palm Springs and there are a lot of potential power disruptions before it gets to us," said Lt. Cmdr. Rob Tye, head of the facilities management division at MAGTFTC at Twentynine Palms.

"We know what the energy savings are expected to be and have included means for verification," he noted.

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