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How Pharos altered my marketplace behavior

James Vallette | May 31, 2012 | Materials

Researching products for Pharos is a privileged if at times depressing position.  I learn how materials are made, and then I help to alert people to potential hazards about products they are considering buying. This knowledge comes in handy when I am doing my own shopping. Last weekend, I opened my wife Eliza’s family camp in the Adi...

The Toxic Chemicals that Lurk in Unfinished Wood Floors

James Vallette | April 26, 2012 | Materials

One might think that an unfinished wood floor is devoid of synthetic chemicals. It sure looks that way--but toxic preservatives may lie in plain sight.

Moist lumber is susceptible to fungal staining. This staining does not cause physical decay, but it looks bad. Commonly called "blue stain," the offending fungi may be yellow, orange,...

Pharos Finishes Another Layer of Flooring Evaluations

James Vallette | March 27, 2012 | Materials

Pharos has evaluated a wide range of flooring products, from wood to vinyl, rubber, and cork.  Now we add another layer of analysis to help architects and designers choose flooring systems that maximize renewable material content and minimize environmental and human heath impacts: Flooring Finishes. Flooring finishes form a film on or in t...

Plastics Society's Tin Ear: Conflict Minerals in Building Materials

James Vallette | February 07, 2012 | Materials

My primary work here in the Pharos Project is to figure out what's inside building materials. Often this research takes me into unexpected territory. A recent look into the manufacturing process of flooring finishes brought my attention to the compound stannous octoate. Examining its life cycle chemistry led me into a virtual tour of a very ble...

Dirty energy cleanup shifts burden to building materials

James Vallette | January 20, 2012 | Materials

The compartmentalization of environmental policies can create escape valves for pollution.  Regulations that do not reduce toxic inputs lead to a transfer of hazards. We have seen this, for example, with solid waste regulations. In the 1980s, when new regulations forced major disposal practice changes, waste generators took advantage of a la...

Ooh, That Smell

James Vallette | November 01, 2010 | Materials

While researching fabrics, I recently stumbled upon a disturbing new development: companies are integrating scents into fibers, to "enhance consumer experiences."

This hits me on a personal level: I am quite sensitive to many perfumes.  While I can control my own home and office environment, these fragrances make travel kind of haza...

Wallboard: No Longer a Dry Subject

James Vallette | April 28, 2010 | Materials

Some building materials are so bland that they draw little notice. Until recently, about the only people who cared about drywall were those who handled it. Beneath paint and other finishes, the boards lay unseen and unconsidered by those living and working in its gypsum cocoon.

Then thousands of complaints erupted, mainly in the Gulf Coast regio...

Sprayed Polyurethane Foams: An Explosive Issue

James Vallette | April 27, 2010 | Materials

"On a Saturday afternoon this past May, while pumping a two-part 'GREEN' soy-based foam into the attic ceiling of a Cape Cod home renovation, a fireball erupted, taking the hose man's life."

So begins a harrowing account by health and safety consultant Richard Hughes, in which he explores how a polyurethane spray foam applica...

Toxic Trade 2010: Drywall

James Vallette | April 08, 2010 | Materials

A couple decades ago, I helped to organize a campaign to stop the export of hazardous waste from the industrialized North to the rest of the world. Ultimately, our work resulted in a ban on many forms of such toxic trade.

It is shocking to see the same tricks that waste traders played on impoverished communities being reenacted in my home country....