The Red List contains the worst in class materials prevalent in the building industry.
The commonly-used chemicals on the Red List are:
- Polluting the environment
- Bio-accumulating up the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations
- Harming construction and factory workers
Alkylphenols are a large family of organic compounds used in a wide variety of products, including cleaning products, beauty products, contraceptives, coatings, fragrances, thermoplastics, carbonless copy paper, and agrochemicals. Most concerns are focused on alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which bioaccumulate and have been shown to cause endocrine disruption in fish. APEs are in cleaning products that end up in waterways from wastewater treatment effluent. Some alkylphenols, especially nonylphenol, are being phased out in Europe, and more research into their impacts is needed. A few governments with environmentally preferable purchasing programs restrict or ban APEs
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is used in a variety of construction materials for its strength and heat resisting capabilities. It is often found in wall insulation, vinyl floor coverings, paint compounds, roofing, heat-resistant fabrics, and automobile brakes. Exposure occurs as asbestos fibers are released into the air during use, demolition, work, building, or repair of asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen, increasing risks of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to manufacture polycarbonate (clear, hard) plastics and epoxy resins. The plastics are used in many consumer products, such as drink bottles, DVDs, eyeglass lenses, electronics, car parts, and other products that must not break easily. Epoxy resins are used for lining food cans and water pipes, and for many sales receipts. Most recent testing has shown the largest health-related concern to be potential impacts on the brains, behavior, and prostate glands of fetuses, infants, and small children. Most health organizations advise against the use of BPA for baby bottles and related products. BPA has also been found in breast milk.
The US Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have determined that cadmium is a known human carcinogen associated with lung cancer. Additionally, acute and long-term exposures can lead to lung and kidney damage, bone loss, and hypertension. In sufficient quantities, cadmium is lethal. Cadmium’s extreme toxicity means that overexposure can occur even when only trace amounts are present, such as during smelting and electroplating activities.
CHLORINATED POLYETHYLENE AND CHLOROSULFONATED POLYETHYLENE
Chlorinated Polyethylene (CPE) and Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene (CSPE) are Persistent Organic Pollutant Source Materials: due to their carbon-chlorine bases, these products contribute to the creation of dioxins and furans at different points in their life cycle (often manufacturing and/or disposal). According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are some of the most potent toxins known to humans, with no known safe limit for exposure and a strong propensity for bioaccumulation. In addition, dioxins are highly persistent in the environment. Similarly, furans accumulate in animal fat, concentrating as they travel up the food chain. Non-chlorinated polyethylene products are readily available in many product categories.
Chlorobenzene is used primarily as a solvent, a degreaser for auto parts, and a chemical intermediary for making other chemicals, so exposures are primarily a risk to workers making or using it. Most exposures are through inhalation of fumes. Short-term exposure can cause headaches, sleepiness, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness. Chronic (long-term) exposure can cause increased signs of neurotoxicity (numbness, etc.) and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. In animals, chronic exposure has also caused kidney and liver damage. Chlorobenzene is broken down by sun and bacteria in the environment and does not accumulate in the food chain.
CHLOROFLUOROCARBONS (CFCS) AND HYDROCHLOROFLUOROCARBONS (HCFCs)
According to US EPA, the depletion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs) is responsible for an increased incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, impairment of human immune systems, and damage to wildlife. CFCs have been banned from production in the United States since 1995.
- REF (CFC effects on ozone): http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/sc_fact.html
- REF (ozone depletion and human health): http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/summary/en/index7.html
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are potent ozone-depleting compounds. While less destructive than the now-banned chlorofluorocarbons, HCFCs are targeted for gradual phaseout by the US EPA, with a total ban going into effect in the year 2030. According to US EPA, the depletion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer is responsible for an increased incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, impairment of human immune systems, and damage to wildlife.
Chloroprene is a Persistent Organic Pollutant Source Material. Due to its carbon- chlorine base, chloroprene contributes to the creation of dioxins at different points in its life cycle (often manufacturing and/or disposal). According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are some of the most potent toxins known to humans, with no known safe limit for exposure and a strong propensity for bioaccumulation. In addition, dioxins are highly persistent in the environment.
Although chromium is a naturally occurring element and chromium III (trivalent chrome) is an essential nutrient, chromium VI (hexavalent chrome) can cause serious health issues, especially for factory workers who can inhale or ingest it during manufacturing. There has been concern about it in drinking water and, lacking EPA maximum allowable levels, the State of California set a public health goal for it. Chromium VI is used primarily for chrome plating of metals for decorative or protective finishes, making stainless steel, leather tanning, anti-corrosive agents for paints, and in textile dyes and pigments. Long-term or high-level exposure through inhalation can cause nasal irritation and ulcers, breathing problems, and nasal and lung cancer in unprotected workers. Ingestion can cause anemia and/or stomach tumors. Skin contact can cause skin ulcers and allergic reactions.
Formaldehyde is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the State of California as a known human carcinogen. Common health effects at low levels of exposure to this volatile organic compound include irritation and sensitization, and the compound also acts as an asthma trigger. Long-term exposure is associated with nasal cancers and leukemia.
HALOGENATED FLAME RETARDANTS (HFRS)
Halogenated Fire Retardants (HFRs) are a broad class of flame retardants containing chlorine or bromine that have aroused concern due to their exponential accumulation in human beings in recent years. HFRs are persistent bioaccumulative toxins, meaning that they accumulate in organisms and the broader environment, often reaching alarmingly high concentrations as they travel up the food chain. In addition, certain halogenated products have shown evidence of harm to humans and other animal species. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, for example, the toxicity endpoints of concern for Penta-PBDE include adverse effects on neurological development, reproduction, thyroid hormone disruption and possible liver toxicity.
HFRs include PBDE, TBBPA, HBCD, Deca-BDE, TCPP, TCEP, Dechlorane Plus, and other retardants with bromine or chlorine. Boron is not an HFR and is allowed. Many products, including virtually all foam insulations, contain HFRs.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the environmental levels of lead have increased more than 1000-fold over the last three centuries, due almost exclusively to human activities. Lead exposure is damaging to virtually every organ and system in the human body, but is particularly damaging to the brain and central nervous system—profoundly so for young children and developing fetuses. Lead exposure is correlated with decreased IQ and delayed learning in children; scientific research has identified no safe level of lead exposure, and effects are irreversible.
According to the World Health Organization, mercury produces a suite of ill effects, including harm to the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and even death. WHO lists children and developing fetuses as especially vulnerable to damage from mercury. Mercury bioaccumulates in the environment, eventually reaching concentrations thousands of times more intense than ambient levels.
POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS (PCBs)
PCB manufacturing in the United States stopped in 1977 but the compound is long-lasting in the environment (mostly in soils) around old manufacturing and disposal sites, in old electrical transformers and electrical devices, and in fish and their predators. PCBs make good coolants, lubricants, and insulators for electrical equipment of all kinds. They are known to cause cancer in animals and are probable human carcinogens, but exposure tends to be limited to people who worked in the electrical industry many years ago, lived close to manufacturing sites, and/or ate contaminated fish. Health effects also include acne-like skin conditions and neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children.
PERFLUORINATED COMPOUNDS (PFCs)
PFCs are chemical compounds that exist in many variations with many uses, such as surface treatments to repel water and stains, acids used in chemistry and research, in the semiconductor industry, and in some medical imaging devices. Many of them are greenhouse gases and bioaccumulate in the environment, but are not stored in human body fat. Most exposure is from contaminated food or products that contain PFCs. Animal studies show endocrine disruption, immune function issues, liver and pancreas damage, and developmental problems.
Mounting evidence from animal studies show the hormone-disrupting potential of phthalates, prompting the National Research Council to urge the US Environmental Protection Agency to pursue a “cumulative risk assessment” of this class of chemicals to determine their interactivity. Testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that phthalates are nearly ubiquitous in the US population, with highest concentrations in women and in children aged 6 to 11 years. The endocrine disrupting nature of phthalates has implications for childhood and reproductive development, as well as cancer incidence. The European Union and over a dozen countries have banned the use of phthalates in children’s products, as has the State of California.
- REF: https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=24
- REF (cumulative risk assessment): http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12528
POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (PVC), CHLORINATED POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (CPVC), POLYVINYLIDENE CHLORIDE (PVDC)
PVC’s vinyl chloride monomer building block is a known human carcinogen, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, PVC is a Persistent Organic Pollutant Source Material. Due to its chlorine content, PVC often contains other Red List ingredients, such as cadmium, lead, and phthalates. The manufacture and disposal of PVC can result in the production of dioxins and disposal phases. Dioxins, specifically TCDD, accumulate in human and animal tissue and are associated with immune system impairment, damage to developing nervous systems, and damage to the endocrine and reproductive systems. TCDD is listed as a “known human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
SHORT CHAIN CHLORINATED PARAFFINS (SCCPs)
SCCPs are most commonly used as lubricants and coolants in metal cutting and forming operations and are also used as secondary plasticizers and flame retardants in plastics, such as PVC. Human exposure can be occupational, via inhalation of metalworking mists, or through contaminated food and dermal contact. Environmental exposure is usually from manufacturing activities, such as production, disposal, incineration, spills into waterways, and sewage effluent. SCCPs are persistent and very bioaccumulative in sediment. They have been found in marine mammals, other biota, and human breast milk in both industrial and remote areas. Toxic effects on mammals can include liver, hormone, and kidney damage that over a long term could lead to cancer in those organs.
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCS) IN WET APPLIED PRODUCTS
VOCs are members of a large group of organic chemicals that can evaporate into the indoor air under normal temperature conditions and into the outdoor air, causing environmental impacts such as photochemical smog. Their health effects vary widely, from respiratory irritants to human carcinogens (such as formaldehyde), which is a concern since they are ingredients in many products in the built environment. On-site wet applied products (paints, adhesives, and sealants) are of particular concern because they can directly impact the health of installers who may not be using breathing or dermal protection, unlike in-factory wet applied materials that are (usually) applied with worker and environmental protections in place.
WOOD TREATMENTS CONTAINING CREOSOTE, ARSENIC OR PENTACHLOROPHENOL
Many conventional wood treatments introduce a litany of human health and environmental problems. The traits that make wood treatments effective at retarding rot and insect damage are also effective at damaging many other forms of life. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, creosote exposure is associated with skin and scrotum cancer in humans, and liver, kidney, and gestational problems in laboratory animals. Inorganic arsenic is not only an acute toxin; it is a known human carcinogen. Pentachlorophenol is linked to liver and immune system damage in humans, and reproductive and thyroid damage in laboratory animals.
- REF: (creosote): https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=64&tid=18
- REF: (arsenic): https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=18&tid=3
- REF (pentachlorophenol): https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=400&tid=70