Highlights from the Pharos Blog: The Signal

Bill Walsh - June 16, 2010

Pharos ProjectIn recent weeks, my colleagues in the Pharos Project have been researching products that have generally good environmental health reputations: low-VOC paints and formaldehyde-free insulation. Moving the market away from these chemicals is definitely a positive step. But the failure of manufacturers to disclose many of the ingredients in these products makes it hard to distinguish a step in the right direction from one that side-steps from one hazard to another.

Tom Lent's examination of formaldehyde-free insulation found that "some of the alternatives represent real improvements with lower toxicity, while others continue the use of red flagged hazardous chemicals." Julie Silas' analysis of interior paints found that "Marketing materials... don't necessarily tell users that there may be health hazard differences associated with the various sheens or base tints."

The increasing availability of formaldehyde-free insulation comes as the major EPA review of the science on formaldehyde, recently released in draft form, conclusively links formaldehyde to leukemia and other cancers of the lymph nodes, blood, bone marrow and spleen; neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity and immunotoxicity; respiratory tract pathology, asthma, and increased allergic sensitization.

But, in an odd contrast, as formaldehyde use decreases due to health concerns, antimicrobial use in paints and other building materials is growing rapidly despite increasing concerns about health impacts and effectiveness, and a finding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that "No evidence is available to suggest that use of these [antimicrobial] products will make consumers and patients healthier or prevent disease."

The initial Pharos evaluation of these commonly used materials once again reveals important differences both in the ingredients and how completely manufacturers disclose those ingredients. Important distinctions exist even among products that have earned indoor air quality certifications. For example, certified "low-VOC" paints can have VOC content ranging from zero to 50 grams per liter. The search filters in the Pharos system save time and help you identify the brands with the lowest VOC content. We invite you to compare these products for yourself by registering for a week-long free trial.

--Bill Walsh, Executive Director


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