Green Building News

Green Building News July 2004

July 29, 2004

Formaldehyde Causes Cancer, Alternatives Too Expensive

A World Health Organization (WHO) panel of 26 scientists from 10 countries have concluded that formaldehyde poses a greater hazard than previously thought. For the first time, an official body has declared that the chemical is “carcinogenic to humans.”

New epidemiological evidence shows a stronger link to cancer of the mouth and throat (nasopharyngeal), which prompted the panel to place formaldehyde in the cancer-causing category.

The scientists also noted recent studies by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health showing that exposure to formaldehyde might also cause leukemia in humans. The panel concluded that current evidence of such a link was “strong but not sufficient” to establish a causal relationship.

The finding contradicts a recently approved change to an Environmental Protection Agency rule that makes emission controls more lenient for plywood and wood product manufacturers. EPA officials would not speculate about how the WHO action would affect regulations.

Chip Frazier, an associate professor of wood science and forest products at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources who specializes in research on wood adhesives, says that even though the industry has substantially reduced formaldehyde emissions in recent years, emissions cannot be completely eliminated for certain adhesives. Consequently, the industry has developed emission-free alternatives, but these substitutes are not viable because of higher costs.

“Alternatives do exist,” said Frazier, “and increased concern about formaldehyde emissions will accelerate the development of new technologies that are cost effective.”

Building materials and home furnishings are among the wood products that may contain formaldehyde-emitting adhesives.


Court Rules That EPA Must Regulate PVC Plant Emissions

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling today in an important case involving hazardous air pollutants emitted by factories that manufacture polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The courts decision in Mossville Environmental Action Now v. Environmental Protection Agency agreed with one of the key arguments made by the environmental petitioners: that EPAs rule setting standards for these production facilities did not adequately control all of the toxic air pollutants those facilities release into the air, as required by the Clean Air Act.

PVC is used in many building products including siding, windows, plumbing and floor covering.

The Court determined that EPA failed to explain or justify its decision to allow emissions of all hazardous air pollutants but one-vinyl chloride-to go unregulated. EPA argued that vinyl chloride was a "surrogate" for other pollutants, and that if those emissions were reduced other pollutants would be reduced to meet Clean Air Act standards as well. The Court rejected this argument and sent EPA back to the drawing board, stating "In short, we do not find EPAs explanation persuasive, and hold its determination that vinyl chloride is a surrogate for all other [hazardous air pollutants] emitted from PVC production facilities is arbitrary and capricious and not supported by the record."

PVC producers release large quantities of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, in addition to other hazardous air pollutants that threaten the environment and public health in and around communities where these plants are located. Among these pollutants are vinylidene chloride, methanol, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, and ethylene dichloride. Exposure to these and other hazardous pollutants-emissions of which were not addressed by EPA in its final rule-is associated with serious adverse health effects. For example, exposure to vinylidene chloride may cause cancer as well as damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys and central nervous system.


San Francisco Adopts Green Standards for Municipal Buildings

San Francisco is moving forward with construction standards that will save the City millions in operational costs. The recently adopted Green Building Ordinance, set to take effect in September, will require certain new city construction projects, renovations, and/or building additions to follow green building design principles -- helping to increase energy efficiency, promote the environment, and increase employee productivity.

The Green Building Ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, requires that all, city-owned facilities and leaseholds will need to achieve at least a LEED™ Silver certification. LEED™ is the green building rating system of the US Green Building Council; the acronym stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design." The buildings are rated on a four-step scale from lowest to highest: LEED Certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold, and LEED Platinum. LEED™ criteria evaluate a buildingís environmental and energy efficiency performance from a "whole building" perspective, over the course of a buildingís lifecycle, which provides a definitive standard for what constitutes a green building.

There are huge advantages in having adequate indoor air quality for employers. Corporate productivity studies show natural lighting and ventilation in the office can improve employee productivity by as much as sixteen percent. These employee productivity gains include a decrease in absenteeism, improvements in the quality of work, enhance comfort and health, a reduction in liability, and minimization in turnovers and workers compensation claims.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the construction and operation of conventional buildings uses 35 percent of all energy the nations consumes, and are responsible for 35 percent of the material that goes to landfill. In addition, conventional buildings use 30 percent of wood and other raw materials, and contribute to 35 percent of the carbon dioxide produced nationwide.


EcoStar Introduces Beaver Tail Tiles

EcoStar™ has added a new style to their line of recycled roofing shingles. The Majestic Slate™ Beaver Tail is made of 100 percent recycled rubber and plastics, Beaver Tail tiles feature a rounded edge, offering a unique architectural design opportunity. All tiles offer an elegant look for steep-slope applications along with longevity, durability and light weight.

“Beaver Tail tiles feature unique architectural design elements for residential as well as commercial applications,” said Kerston Russell, divisional president of EcoStar. “The product is supported by a 50-year warranty, offers Class A Fire and Class 4 Hail Resistance and is a ‘green’ alternative to natural slate.”

As part of the Majestic Slate Designer Series, EcoStar’s Beaver Tail tiles use progressive molding expertise and color variations to create options for steep-slope roofing.


Free PV Information Available

The Renewable Energy (Photovoltaics) New Construction Tool Kit was developed with funding from the California Energy Commission's Renewable Consumer Education program. 

The PV-New Construction Toolkit addresses questions often asked at each design stage of a project, including architectural considerations, schematic design, design development, procurement and interconnection issues. The Toolkit focuses on commercial and multifamily residential grid-tied PV systems. However, many of the ideas may also be helpful for residential and stand-alone "off-grid" systems.

"We believe this Tool Kit helps to fill a gap we see in the resources available to green building design professionals," says Greg Barker, Project Manager. "We have worked with several design projects to develop a decision-making framework and other aids to help design teams evaluate whether their projects offer a good opportunity to incorporate renewable energy technologies.


Information for Reused Materials

The Building Materials Reuse Calculator estimates the environmental benefits of reusing building materials in terms of 10 avoided negative environmental impacts (global warming, acidification, eutrophication, fossil fuel depletion, water intake, criteria air pollutants, ecological toxicity, human health, ozone depletion, smog) and in terms of the embodied energy that the materials contain, which is preserved when the materials are reused.

This tool assumes that reused materials take the place of new materials. It calculates the environmental impacts that would have resulted from extracting and processing raw materials, making them into finished materials, and transporting them from the factory to their points of use. The results also measure the energy that would have been required to produce equal amounts of new products, based on the embodied energy contained in the reused product.

The calculator is available for downloading to registered users of the NY Wa$teMatch Materials Exchange.


Revolutionary Design Contest

The Cradle to Cradle Design competition aims to encourage design that follows the principles presented in the book of the same name. Design will lead to actual construction. Jurors are Alexander Garvin, Daniel Libeskind, Bill McDonough, Randall Stout and Sarah Susanka. Homes will be built with a goal of achieving the new standards of sustainability set up in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Cash awards of up to $5,000 will be given. Students can also win paid internships (including room and board) to participate in building their winning designs.


Builders and Developers Recognized in Building With Trees Award Program

Conservation-minded builders and developers around the country have been named to receive 2004 Awards of Excellence in the Building With Trees recognition program. The program, sponsored by The National Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the National Association of Home Builders and Firewise Communities, recognizes builders and developers who save trees during construction and land development.

Winners of the 2004 Building With Trees Awards of Excellence are:

  • Endicott Hill in Bethesda, Md., developed by Mitchell & Best Homebuilders LLC, of Rockville, Md.
  • The Bancroft Development in Sandy Springs, Md., a project by Mitchell & Best Homebuilders LLC, of Rockville, Md.
  • Tall Oaks Townhomes, developed by Residential Development Group of Crystal Lake, Ill.
  • Baldwin Park, developed by Baldwin Park Development Company, of Orlando, Fla.
  • Basswood Lodge, developed by Basswood Lodge LLC, Omaha, Neb.
  • North Burnham Park/Solider Field Redevelopment, a project of the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Park District.
  • Highland Park Wastewater Treatment Facility, developed by the Hilltown Township Water & Sewer Authority of Hilltown Township, Penn.

A jury of development industry and urban forestry professionals selected the award winners. Criteria included: creativity and attention to protecting trees during planning, design and construction; planting and providing for long-term tree care; demonstrating a commitment to tree protection by having a certified tree-care professional on the development team; taking inventory of existing trees and using information to help preserve trees; and adherence to tree protection goals throughout the construction process.

The Awards of Excellence will be presented to developers later this year at the Arbor Day Foundation's Building for Greener Communities National Conference, to be held Oct. 4 through 6, 2004. The conference highlights the awards presentation and provides a national forum to discuss issues of tree protection during land development and construction.

Additional information on the conference, the awards and ways that you can build with trees can be found at the National Arbor Day Web site.

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