Study finds green buildings have
toxic chemicals

This study shows that green buildings have toxic chemicals

September 25, 2017

What’s the story?

Newly renovated ‘green’ buildings in Boston were tested for chemicals, and researchers tried to figure out which chemicals came from building materials and which chemicals came from occupants and their possessions.

Research summary

  • Researchers took air and surface samples from recently renovated ‘green’ buildings before and after people moved in.

  • Ten renovated units were tested before occupancy and 27 units were tested up to nine months after occupancy. Most of the units were single story 2 or 3 bedroom homes.

  • Samples were checked for a wide range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) including antimicrobials, fragrances, flame retardants, formaldehyde and solvents.

  • 58 types of chemicals were detected and 25 of those were classified as “occupant related” which means that occupants brought the chemicals with them on furniture, toys, and/or personal care products like shampoo.

  • It’s difficult for researchers to say which chemicals came from building sources, but “the presence of several chemicals pre-occupancy, whose levels decreased or remained constant after occupants moved in, provided evidence of at least some building related sources for several flame retardants, plastics chemicals, and VOCs” (p9).

  • Some of the chemicals detected during the study are banned from use.

  • According to the researchers, “all units had formaldehyde indoor air concentrations that exceeded the carcinogenic screening level… [and] at least 69% of units had indoor air concentrations of benzene that exceeded the carcinogenic target risk level” (p11). Some of these chemicals probably came from outdoor sources like cars. Other toxic chemicals found in the units included triclosan, pesticides and phthalates.

Why does this matter?

People often think that green buildings are healthy, but this study shows that ‘green’ and ‘healthy’ aren’t always the same. Consumers need information about the differences. People also need more information about chemicals in consumer products. Almost half the chemicals found in the Boston homes came from occupant sources. If people knew about the chemicals in the products they buy, they would probably make different choices – and that would make a positive difference to their health and the environment.

Study source

Article: ‘Chemical exposures in recently renovated low-income housing: Influence of building materials and occupant activities’

Authors: Dodson, R. E., Odesky, J. O., Colton, M. D., McCauley, M., Camann, D. E., Yau, A. Y., Adamkiewicz, G., and Rudel, R. A.

Publication: Environment International

Date: Available online 12 September 2017

Open Access: Yes

Find out more