What’s in Your Chemical Soup?
One reason why transparency may be an arduous process for some manufacturers is—believe it or not—some don’t even know which chemicals are being introduced into their raw material stream by their own suppliers.
“A lot of product manufacturers are not manufacturers; they are distributors,” suggests Jean Hansen, LEED Fellow, FIIDA, CID, EDAC, senior professional associate and sustainable interiors manager at HDR Architecture, San Francisco. “They get a lot of products from suppliers, and they are not even familiar with the content of what’s going into those products.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that in the U.S., there are very few regulations that require an evaluation of chemicals, tens of thousands of which were grandfathered in when the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in 1976, which regulates the
distribution and use of new and existing chemicals on the market, according to Hansen.
“We know nothing about those 62,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in,” she says, “and 2,000 chemicals a year are added to the mix of what’s being used. We know very little about those chemicals.”
Hansen suggests that banning some chemicals in favor of others doesn’t go far enough, and that the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should have greater authority to require chemical manufacturers to conduct testing and to disclose the results.
“You don’t want to see just certain chemicals identified as being really toxic and nothing known about the substitutions because sometimes those substitutions can be found to be just as bad if not worse down the road 10 years or so,” she notes. “It’s not simple enough to just ban certain chemicals. We need to know more about all of them.”