Yesterday, award-winning architectural design firm Perkins+Will announced the release of a Precautionary List that will help guide professionals as they engage in the green building process. The list, which is available online, provides information about more than two dozen harmful chemicals and in what type of building materials these chemicals may be found.

For example, Bisphenol A (BPA), the chemical behind the SIGG controversy, can be found in joint sealants, plastic glazing, high-performance coatings, and signage. However, the Precautionary List goes beyond simply stating the chemical’s name and the building products it may be found in, the database also provides green building professionals with the known or suspected health effects, any regulatory measures pertaining to the chemical, and a list of possible alternative products that can be used.

Part of the catalyst for the creation of the Precautionary List was the need for transparency in the green building industry. Last night, Perkins+Will hosted a panel discussion during Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix to address this important issue and how it should be addressed in the industry. Panel members included Bill Wash, Founder of the Healthy Building Network, Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, and Robin Guenther, Principal with Perkins+Will.

An example given during the presentation was a cancer center being built with products that contained known carcinogens. Even green-certified buildings have the potential to off gas or otherwise leech harmful toxins into the indoor environment. In order to address these issues, green building professionals need to ask the tough questions. What harmful toxins does this building product contain? How will this building product affect the building’s occupants? How will this building product affect the product manufacturers and installers?

So while it may be known that BPA can disrupt the endocrine system if ingested, does that mean that the product is safe in an epoxy used in an office space? Although the intended use of the epoxy does not lend itself ingestion, this does not mean that BPA-containing epoxies are safe to produce, apply, or use. The human impact of these green building products must be assessed at all stages and professionals must look beyond the safety of a product when used as intended.

Peter Syrett, Associate Principal at Perkins+Will, explains that the Precautionary List allows the company to begin a dialogue with clients, colleagues, product manufacturers, and others in the green building industry. Through this dialogue, these difficult questions can be asked. The answers can then be the catalyst for change.

At its core, the Precautionary List is a communications tool. It will allow green building professionals to begin an open conversation with product manufacturers to encourage change in the industry. It allows green building professionals to communicate with one another about the changes they have made to ensure healthier building practices. The list also allows the public to learn more about the green building industry and how safety improvements can be made to the products used during the construction of these green-certified projects.

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