Science & Policy Blog: Buildings

HBCD is on the way out – but use of questionable alternatives will persist

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This week, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. But internationally, countries that have signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants have a different reason to give thanks: the amendment adding HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) to Annex A (Elimination) takes effect today. Under Annex A of the Convention, countries have up to five years to eliminate uses of HBCD in plastic foam building insulation, and any insulation materials containing HBCD during that phase-out period will need to be labeled. HBCD is a persistent,…

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A new year, with promising new regulations

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2013 was a productive year for fire safety and for environmental health! Two important regulatory changes that take effect this year have the power to reduce the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals in consumer products while continuing a high standard of fire safety. First, California’s Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) received a much-needed update in 2013 and is now in effect across the state. Second, California Assembly Bill 127 (AB127) generated a discussion of the validity of building insulation flammability…

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USGBC honors leaders, unveils new building health initiative

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The US Green Building Council Northern California Chapter’s annual Super Hero Awards gala, held last Tuesday in San Francisco, honored leaders in the nonprofit, education, and government sectors for their work in generating healthy, sustainable, and responsible communities and policies. The evening highlighted achievements ranging from efficient and affordable community planning to safer chemicals use in consumer and building products to environmentally responsible corporate investment. During the event, USGBC-NCC Executive Director Dan Geiger launched the chapter’s new Building Health Initiative, which will focus…

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HBCD alternatives assessment: narrow focus misses large problems

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Polymeric flame retardant evaluated as HBCD alternative in Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (EPA DfE) assessment presents unknown risks and possible undesirable trade-offs In reading the Executive Summary of the recent EPA DfE alternatives assessment it may appear that there is a safer chemical replacement for the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), which is being globally phased out. Unlike HBCD, the replacement is a polymer or polymeric, meaning that many smaller pieces are joined together to make a large molecule,…

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World sees the light and bans HBCD. US stays in the dark.

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In a historic decision, over 100 governments from around the world have agreed to list HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) for global elimination. This ban means you can’t produce it, use it, import it or export it. The ban takes full effect by August 2015. Just as important, countries voted against allowing the recycling of HBCD products, and new building insulation that contains HBCD will require labeling. The goal is to prevent HBCD-containing products from being disposed of improperly or illegally dumped. As…

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New study: health and environmental risk in building insulation

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Foam plastic insulation materials such as polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyisocyanurate are important to increase the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce carbon footprints. However, potentially harmful flame retardants are used to help foam plastic insulations meet a flammability test. Unfortunately, these chemicals have spread around the globe and are now found in just about everything else too – dolphins, birds, our house dust, food, and families. This is a concern because they have been associated with neurological and developmental toxicity, endocrine…

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