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Toxins in Household Goods – Where can consumers turn?

by / Monday, 29 October 2012 / Published in Green Building Consulting
toxins in household goods

Toxins in Household Goods are the current norm. With the growing buzz concerning toxins in building materials and a push for more transparency, where can consumers turn?

The answer:  Not enough places.toxins in household goods

Several factors contribute to this lack of information on toxins in household goods. One lies in the sheer number of ingredients involved. Significant progress has been made in the building industry in the creation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Living Building Challenge ‘Red List’ and the Perkins+Will’s Transparency Lists. Each has a different  strategy for creating more ‘healthy’ materials and buildings. There are certainly early adopters and even mainstream building projects that adhere to these standards but in this industry the average toxic building product (i.e. waterproofing, drywall, paint)  may be composed of 1-10 parts where the average consumer product (oven, computer, washer/dryer) could be composed of 100-1,000 parts.  This is no easy task to develop an EPD, provide guidance, or even regulate. Another factor is the market incentive to create healthy products. Is this a situation in which waiting for consumer demand is the correct way to proceed? Unlike energy savings in buildings, the external savings created by having a ‘healthier’ product are far removed from the consumers wallet in any sort of short-term payback period.

But some options do exist. EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is an example of a verification system for computers & displays and will soon cover imaging equipment as well as TVs. Within this systems tools include the criteria for the elimination of heavy metals, PVC, and flame retardants. A government order instructs federal agencies to give priority to these products in their procurement process. GREENGUARD  is an indoor air quality certification that mostly comprises building products, but also contain a few products related to consumer goods (furniture, bedding, electronics).  Other programs which could relate to durable goods include REACH, Cradle-to-Cradle and FCS Certification. These all aim to eliminate certain environmentally-related pollution, but they don’t specifically target consumer products.

A few current products inform consumers with labels such as PVC-Free, BPA-Free, HFR-Free. Aside from waiting for a critical mass of the general population to become aware and then create demand for a label that might say ‘PDBE, Phenol, Formaldehyde, Styrene, Asthmagen, PBTs, Mutagens Neurotoxicant – Free’ (in addition to a few hundred more), how do we create an efficient system in which consumers know the chemical which are in the products they buy? We could look at CA Prop 65, USDA 100% Organic, and the ongoing GMO (CA Prop 37) discussion for more guidance on the advantages and disadvantages to each system.

We have a right to know if there are toxins in household goods.

At Healthy Building Science, we evaluate you materials and household consumer products on a case-by-case situation in order to ensure that products meet all of the aforementioned lists while delivering client’s options and feedback concerning the ingredients they plan to buy. The results are sometimes surprising, but overall provide crucial information for living and creating a healthier environment.

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