Keeping Things in Perspective

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Recently we have seen a growth in the number of organizations that are asking for reporting of the raw materials which go into the products used to construct our buildings. While I believe that clear and accurate information is critical for evidence based decisions, I’m not sure we are always prepared to evaluate all of the information we are bombarded with in the appropriate perspective.

An example of this is a recent conversation I had with a designer friend on the West Coast who stated that he felt that lead exposure or more accurately over-exposure continued to be a critical health issue and he wished to specify a building constructed of entirely lead free products. This meant going well beyond the traditional concerns for coatings like paints and looking at everything in the building.

I asked if he had good data for the base-line lead levels of the soil where the job would be constructed. I pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sites lead contaminated dust and lead contaminated residential soil as two of the top three most common sources of lead poisoning (http://epa.gov/lead/index.html ).

It turns out that some of the products my friend was concerned about had lead levels that were less than 1 percent compared to  the background lead levels for the geographic area for his design project. That helped put the data into perspective. Obviously keeping the lead levels in the building low is going to involve a lot more than just specifying lead free products.

As we enter the age of Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations and other labels for our buildings and building products, I hope we can all resist the temptation to run with a little information and take the time to truly understand how this fits into the “big picture.”