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Accessory Materials
Materials used for installation, maintenance, cleaning, and operations; including materials recommended by warranty. For example, if a carpet requires an adhesive. The adhesive would be an accessory material.
Antimicrobials or biocides are usually necessary in water-based, wet-applied products to protect them from spoilage prior to installation or compromised performance once installed. These preservatives, however, are considered to be pesticides and therefore carry health and environmental hazards. Some preservatives have higher associated hazards than others. Lower hazard preservatives should be substituted when possible. Manufacturers market some products as “antimicrobial,” or claim that the products kill disease-causing microbes on surfaces. These claims implying a health benefit can be misleading. Such products may contain biocides that are not necessary for product preservation or performance, have not been shown to have a health benefit, and can in fact have many negative impacts on human health and the environment.
The evaluation of the toxicological properties (hazards) of chemicals; evaluates exposure and risk assessment in relation to both environmental and human health scenarios.
Associated Hazard
Health hazards associated with a chemical ingredient.
See Respiratory Sensitizer
Authoritative Chemical Hazard List
A list of chemicals and their association to human health or environmental hazards. These lists are created by an expert assessment of scientific evidence by a recognized authoritative body.
“Biobased” is a term used in the marketing materials of many types of products. While biobased technically describes a product made from a living material (soybean oil, wool, wood, etc.) marketing materials may stretch this definition to include minerals or other naturally occurring materials that aren’t renewable, or suggest that an entire product is made of biobased materials, when in fact only a small percentage of the product is.
Blowing Agent
Blowing agents are used to generate foam in materials such as insulation. Many blowing agents have high global warming potential (GWP). Production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) has mostly stopped since the 2000s, but hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are still used. Foam insulation manufacturers are transitioning from HFC blowing agents to low global warming potential hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), but there are concerns about high global warming and ozone-depleting feedstocks used to produce these HFO blowing agents. Other, less impactful blowing agents, including hydrocarbons and water, are also used in some products.
Can cause or contribute to the development of cancer.
A Chemical Abstract Services Registry Number (CASRN) is assigned by the Chemical Abstract Service of the American Chemical Society to uniquely identify chemical elements, compounds, and other materials and mixtures. Frequently used in Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), such an identifier is also known as a “CAS number.”
Climate Change
Climate change refers to significant changes in global temperature, precipitation, wind patterns and other measures of climate resulting from human-driven greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
Common Product Profile
A profile of a generic, non-manufacturer-specific product type that contains: a brief description of the product type, the expected composition of the product based on publicly available sources, and corresponding health hazards inherent to this composition. Habitable develops Common Product Profiles (CPs) and uses them to develop our Informed Product Guidance. See Pharos for more information on CPs:
CSI Masterformat™
Building industry recognized standard for categorizing building materials;
Developmental Toxicant
Can cause harm to a developing child, including birth defects, low birth weight, and biological or behavioral problems that appear as the child grows.
Endocrine/Hormone Disruptor
Can interfere with hormone communication between cells, which controls metabolism, development, growth, reproduction, and behavior (the endocrine system). Linked to health effects such as obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and altered brain development.
Flue-Gas Desulfurization (FGD)
Flue-gas desulfurization is an environmental control technology installed in the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants designed to remove pollutants from the air. These controls are also called “scrubbers”. Once the scrubbers are full of sulfur dioxide, they are often used to create synthetic gypsum. FGD gypsum can be used in drywall, but also in concrete and other applications where mined gypsum can be used. FGD can contain heavy metals such as mercury that can be released into the air when it is heated to high temperatures for incorporation into products.
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas used in the manufacture of plastics and other chemicals for the building industry. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and asthmagen. It is used in some paints and adhesives, in some fabric treatments, and, significantly, in the manufacture of polymeric binding resins used in a wide variety of building products. Urea formaldehyde reacts with moisture in the air and is known to release formaldehyde over time, long after product installation.
Global Warming Potential (GWP)
Certain gasses, commonly referred to as “greenhouse gasses,” have the ability to warm the earth by absorbing heat from the sun and trapping it in the atmosphere. Global warming potential is a relative measure of how much heat a given greenhouse gas will absorb in a given time period. GWP numbers are relative to carbon dioxide, which has a GWP of 1. The larger the GWP number, the more a gas warms the earth. To learn more about interpreting GWP numbers, see:
Short for “GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals”, a chemical screening and assessment standard developed by Clean Production Action to rank chemicals along a four point scale between the most toxic chemicals and the most benign to guide substitution efforts.
Halogenated Flame Retardants
Flame retardants are chemicals added to products to reduce their flammability. Halogenated flame retardants contain chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon (chlorinated or brominated flame retardants). Chemicals in this group are considered very important to avoid because of their toxicity and ability to migrate from products. Many within this class are also persistent in the environment, bioaccumulate in the food chain, or both.
Hazard is an intrinsic property of a substance - its potential to harm humans or the environment based on its physical structure and properties. We can assess the hazard of a chemical or material by reviewing the scientific evidence for the specific kinds of harm that a substance can cause (often called endpoints), such as damage to the human reproductive system or the onset of asthma.
Health Endpoint
A disease symptom or related marker of a health impact on a human or other organism. Examples of human health endpoints include carcinogenicity (causes cancer), reproductive and developmental toxicity, respiratory sensitization, etc. Health endpoints are due to the inherent hazards of a substance and are determined by authoritative bodies, such as the US EPA or the National Institutes of Health.
Also known as a Health Product Declaration. It is a standardized disclosure format that allows manufacturers to share contents of their products and associated health hazards. It considers the chemicals in the product as delivered to the job site. HPDs do not currently include full life cycle chemical hazards. Having an HPD does not indicate that a product is healthier; it indicates that the manufacturer is participating in content transparency.
Impurity (residual or contaminant)
An unintended constituent present in a material or mixture as manufactured. It may originate from the starting materials or be the result of secondary or incomplete reactions during the manufacturing process. While it is present in the final material or mixture, it was not intentionally added.
In biology, the term “lifecycle” describes the arc an organism undergoes from birth, through stages of growth and development, to its death. When applied to building products, “lifecycle” describes the arc that chemicals or materials take from the extraction of the raw materials needed for their creation, through their synthesis and inclusion in a building product, the period of time that the product is installed in a building, its eventual removal from the building, and its disposal/reuse/recycling at the end of its useful life. Products (and the chemicals and materials used to make them) often present human and environmental health hazards at any step in this lifecycle.
Material Health
The healthfulness of materials and products across all life cycle stages. The practice of material health means to avoid or reduce the use of chemicals that are hazardous to human and environmental health, protecting building occupants, workers, communities, and the planet.
Can cause or increase the rate of mutations, which are changes in the genetic material in cells. This can result in cancer and birth defects.
Ozone Depletion
Can contribute to chemical reactions that destroy ozone in the earth’s upper atmosphere.
Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxicant (PBT)
Does not break down readily from natural processes, accumulates in organisms, concentrating as it moves up the food chain, and is harmful in small quantities.
Parts per million (1,000 ppm = 0.1%; 100 ppm = 0.01%). In disclosure documents, a 100 ppm threshold provides greater resolution, giving a more complete picture of the product content than 1,000 ppm.
Reproductive Toxicant
Can disrupt the male or female reproductive systems, changing sexual development, behavior or functions, decreasing fertility, or resulting in loss of a fetus during pregnancy.
Respiratory Sensitizer/Asthmagen
Can result in high sensitivity such that small quantities trigger asthma, rhinitis, or other allergic reactions in the respiratory system. This can exacerbate current asthma as well as cause the disease of asthma.
Tints or colorants are a mix of pigments and other ingredients that give paints their distinct color. These tints can be a substantial source of VOC content in addition to whatever VOCs are in the paint itself. Darker and richer colors will tend to be higher in VOC content. Some manufacturers have developed low or zero VOC tint lines that can be used to ensure that a low VOC paint product remains so even in dark or rich colors.
VOC Content
Amount of VOCs present in a product as sold. Often reported per regulatory requirements for liquid/wet applied products in grams of VOCs per liter of product (g/L). Some volatile compounds are exempt from regulatory reporting as part of the VOC content if they do not contribute to smog formation. These exempted VOCs may, however, still be hazardous to workers and residents who breathe them in during or after installation.
VOC Emission
Typically refers to testing of the levels of a certain set of chemicals that are released from products per the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of VOC Emissions.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds are commonly defined as chemicals that are released as gasses into the air. VOCs may be used in the production of products and some present in products before and after installation in a building. Some VOCs may be released quickly during installation; others can be emitted slowly over time from solid products. Learn more about VOCs in this blog post, “Low VOC? Don’t Stop There” (