Healthy Building Network and Perkins+Will Conclude Antimicrobial Building Products Are Best Avoided
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MARCH 1, 2017
Gina Ciganik, CEO
Healthy Building Network
Washington, DC: In the second paper published from their collaboration, Healthy Building Network and global architecture firm Perkins+Will released an analysis today that recommends avoiding the use of building products treated with antimicrobial additives. Since no evidence exists that the ability of an antimicrobial agent to kill pathogens translates to fewer infections in practice, and many manufacturers are simply marketing products containing preservatives, avoiding antimicrobial products categorically saves material specifiers time and bypasses confusing marketing practices.
“It is important to remember that antimicrobials are pesticides, and haphazardly incorporating them into our homes, schools, and offices can have negative human health consequences,” says Gina Ciganik, CEO of Healthy Building Network. “When you balance the evidence of harm from these additives against the lack of any health benefit, the math becomes very easy. We applaud Perkins+Will for taking such a clear position on these products in the absence of better transparency.”
Healthy Environments: Understanding Antimicrobial Ingredients in Building Materials reviews manufacturer claims about their products, the state of the science on antimicrobial additives, and offers analysis of complex federal regulation that allows for confusing and potentially misleading marketing claims about the benefits of antimicrobials. The report notes that despite some product claims that they kill infectious bacteria in living spaces, longstanding guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a recent ban by the US Food and Drug Administration both cite a lack of any evidence that antimicrobial products have any benefit to human health. Many antimicrobial additives in building products are added to preserve the product itself, not to kill infectious bacteria in living spaces, but due to a regulatory loophole and aggressive marketing by manufacturers, consumers may be easily misled into thinking that these products have health benefits.
The report points to growing evidence that widespread use of antimicrobial additives has consequences for public health, and the health of the environment at large. After exposure to common antimicrobial additives, researchers have found that microbes can become resistant both to the additive and to therapeutic antibiotics used in healthcare to prevent illness. Antimicrobial additives can also leach out of their host products over time and make their way into ecosystems. Some antimicrobials are based on nanoparticles, a field of engineering with environmental and human health understanding that is still in its infancy.
“There is very little disclosure about when an antimicrobial is present in a product, and the purpose it serves,” says Melissa Coffin, principal investigator with HBN and co-author of the white paper. “Since preservatives by definition only prevent spoilage -- any marketing suggesting otherwise is greenwash.”
To underscore the barrier that poor disclosure of antimicrobials poses to the selection of healthy building materials, Perkins+Will announced that it will now direct its design teams to work with clients to avoid the use of products marketed as being antimicrobial whenever possible, including in healthcare projects. Healthy Building Network encourages other designers, contractors, and building owners to adopt similar policies.
Suzanne Drake, a senior interior designer at Perkins+Will and co-author of the white paper explains, “Because it is so difficult to understand when an antimicrobial is used, and why it’s there, we felt the best guidance we could give our teams was to simply avoid a building product advertising itself as antimicrobial categorically.”
To read the full white paper, visit http://healthybuilding.net/content/research-and-reports.