Sealants and Adhesives Material Ingredient Transparency

Posted on 10/28/2013 12:15:48 PM By Paul Bertram

Early in my participation in the USGBC, I was part of the Materials & Resource Technical Advisory Group (MR TAG). The MR section of LEED, at that time, largely focused on single attribute credits such as FSC wood, recycled content, rapidly renewable content, and regional materials. Indoor Air Quality credits included all adhesives used inside the building being in compliance with the VOC limits of SCAQMD Rule 1168.

The MR Tag worked through a process that eventually brought LEED to consider multiple attribute material environmental impacts. This more comprehensive view of material multi-attributes is, in part, represented in LEEDv4 Building Product Disclosure and optimization - environmental product declarations (EPDs).  The importance of this is not insignificant in that EPDs are based on solid scientific principles that are well accepted and established ISO Standards. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are industry accepted which helps manufacturers accurately disclose relevant information about the environmental impact of products or systems. An EPD is how a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is reported and is also based on accepted industry ISO standards based on industry approved consensus Product Category Rules (PCR).  

What is not in an EPD

In the United States most environmental impacts are based on the Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI) but currently doesn’t include human health cancer and non-cancer categories that are listed in TRACI.   Although TRACI includes human cancer, human non-cancer, and human criteria effects these currently are not reported due to a lack of reliable risk and exposure data.

As I rolled off the MR TAG there were influences from the Healthy Building Network, BuildinGreen, Perkins+Will, The Living Building Challenge and others driving efforts related to “Chemicals of Concern” and the lack of information on the chemical makeup of materials.

As an example, the Healthy Building Network states their mission to:
“Transform the market for building materials to advance the best environmental, health and social practices.”

Principles Include:

The Right To Know.
We have a right to know what is in the products we specify, buy and use.

Precautionary Principle

Take precautionary actions based upon the weight of available evidence and in the face of uncertainty.

The Responsibility of the Manufacturer

Manufacturers possess the most information about the contents of their product and have a responsibility to be accountable for things they make.


Share all assumptions, methodology, data and analysis. Reward manufacturers who fully disclose contents and processes to allow for meaningful analysis.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) also included human heath through the Committee on the Environment (COTE) where that mission includes: Measure 8: Materials and Construction

Sustainable design includes the informed selection of materials and products to reduce product-cycle environmental impacts, improve performance, and optimize occupant health and comfort.

At a recent conference that I attended an architect informed me that “Human Health” is now positioned to trump all other material evaluation criteria. The significance of this statement is to frame the level of importance the design community is driving the need to understand “chemical” impacts as related to human health and the resulting chemical transparency initiatives.

LEEDv4 MRc4: Building Product Disclosure and optimization - material ingredients is indicative of these efforts by encouraging the use of products and materials for which life-cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life-cycle impacts. To reward project teams for selecting products for which the chemical ingredients in the product are inventoried using an accepted methodology and for selecting products verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances. To reward raw material manufacturers who produce products verified to have improved life-cycle impacts.

LEEDv4 provides several pathways for raw material suppliers and end product manufacturers to report their single chemicals including: The Health Product Declaration, Pharos, analyzing single chemistries with the GreenScreen, C2C certification and other USGBC approved methodologies.

While most would agree that chemistry impacts regarding human health are not currently part of an EPD, it is acknowledged that there are no reliable or creditable data bases on risk and exposure of chemicals as related to an end product. Specific to the Pharos tool, their goals is to: Eliminate the use or creation of persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic, and/or untested substances in the manufacture of products that may endanger the health of manufacturing workers and neighboring communities and environments. This goal seems to cross areas of responsibility as related to design team material evaluation and EPA environmental regulations.

Several of these tools and programs filter the analysis down to color codes based on single chemistries without consideration of the end product chemical reactions or specific material application such as indoor/outdoor, part of an assemble, assemblies that are off site manufactured in a controlled environment.

Currently there are no accepted chemical reporting standards. LEEDv4 offers several pathways for compliance but none are ANSI process developed standards nor are reporting criteria and processes exactly the same. While this may appear to give manufacturers flexibility in reporting, it is actually causing confusion and push back from the manufacturing community.

My personal belief is that no manufacturer is intentionally producing materials that are harmful as an end product. The American Chemistry Council’s Responsive Care principles provide manufacturers and raw material suppliers guiding principles to commit to continuous improvement, environmental, health, safety and security performance.  The discussions on chemical transparency reporting must move beyond single chemistry review to understanding comprehensive impacts of the end product. Additionally, a more unified and widely accepted standard needs to be explored. It is worth mentioning that efforts in this area through ASTM include: ASTM WK40619 - New Guide for the Evaluation of Chemical and Component Alternatives in a Products Life Cycle. Raw material suppliers and producers must be engaged in this discussion for a unified forward movement.

Most important, from the view of a specifier, is determining how much weight chemical considerations should receive in material evaluation and specification in relationship to functional performance, compliance and the many aspects of material assessment and project specification.

What is next?

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