Skip to Content

Chemicals of concern demystified

On September 24 at BSA Space, the BSA Committee on the Environment (COTE) hosted a lively roundtable discussion regarding how chemicals in the built environment affect human health. Moderated by Andrea Love AIA of Payette, the panel included experts with diverse backgrounds, experience, and opinions. Breeze Glazer of Perkins+Will gave a designer’s perspective, Paula Buick of Payette offered insights as a former intensive care nurse, Melissa McCullough of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute spoke from an owner’s and industrial hygienist’s point of view, and Meredith Elbaum summarized her work with the Health Product Declaration Collaborative.

Some of the toughest questions of the evening included these: As nonscientists, how do architects translate the often confusing data on building materials and design the safest possible environments for human health? How do we keep up with changing materials? For example, reading a material safety data sheet on a floor tile tells only part of the story. McCullough outlined how Dana-Farber Cancer has developed a methodical process for reviewing building materials and suggested a risk-based assessment. Glazer outlined how Perkins+Will has used organizations, tools, and frameworks such as LEED, Pharos, the Living Building Challenge, and the Healthy Building Network.

“The BSA has taken a stance on energy and many other sustainability aspects that affect our work as architects, but we [the BSA] have been largely silent on this important issue,” said audience member and current BSA president Mike Davis FAIA. Davis asked for help from the panel to draft an official BSA policy on healthy building materials as a means of showing leadership and continuing the discussion and education among designers and the larger group of stakeholders in related industries. Making a positive impact will require partnerships with multiple stakeholders, including owners, architects, interior designers, contractors, manufacturers, vendors, health experts, and chemical companies.

If you would like to help, please contact BSA COTE co-chairs Philippe Généreux AIA or Jim Stanislaski AIA.

Read a related blog post by Payette.

Photo by June Lee. Taken December 6, 2012 at BSA Space-hosted forum, Road Work Ahead.