Perkins+Will Launches First Chemical Blacklist for Building Designers

Perkins+Will Launches First Chemical Blacklist for Building Designers

Danger sign - / CC BY 2.0

Architectural design firm Perkins+Will has created a list of 25 chemicals that are commonly used in the building industry but also pose a number of health threats to humans and the environment.

With its new Perkins+Will Precautionary List, the firm is hoping to educate designers, architects and others in the world of buildings about the chemicals, their dangers and alternatives. Perkins+Will is also hoping that the list, which will grow over time, will spur the creation of alternatives where they currently do not exist.

"We realized that a lot of this information is siloed, either intentionally or not," said Peter Syrett, associate principal at Perkins+Will and one of the creators of the list. "This is an attempt to take what we thought are the most common questionable chemicals in our work as designers and identify them and a more cautious approach to using them."

Each entry for a chemical on the free, online list includes the chemical name, its origin and source, a summary of its health impacts, a list of building products where it's commonly found, alternative materials, regulations, known and suspected health effects and links to government databases.

Some of the chemicals on the list are arsenic, bisphenol A, cadmium, copper, halogenated and brominated flame retardants, lead, mercury, phthalates, polystyrene and PVC.

"All these chemicals have either been listed or classified on government regulatory lists as cautionary chemicals, so we set that as a guidepost," Syrett said.

While government regulations are the minimum that companies must comply with, more and more companies in various industries are going beyond what the law calls for by redesigning products to eliminate or reduce certain chemicals that have been linked to health issues but are not yet regulated. One reason companies are taking that extra step is in anticipation of further regulation; the EPA is even calling for reform to the U.S.'s chemical law. Brand management is another reason; using suspect chemical bisphenol A, even in safe amounts, caused a huge backlash against water bottle maker SIGG. Pressure from environmental groups is another impetus; Greenpeace have been pushing for greener electronics for some time, and a recent report highlighted innovations developed by Apple, Sony Ericsson and others.

The Perkins+Will list can be searched by chemical name, building category (like flame retardants, heavy metals and wood additives), building divisions and sections (concrete, masonry, finishes, etc.) and health effects.

The list got started when Perkins+Will interior designer Chris Youssef was working on designing a cancer center and, since a cancer center would be the worst place to have unhealthy chemicals lingering, wanted to avoid using any known or suspected carcinogens.

Now that they have compiled their research on the chemicals, Perkins+Will hopes to make more designers aware of the chemical impacts and help open up dialogue about safer alternatives between designers and suppliers. Youssef said that dialogue will hopefully lead to the creation of safer alternatives for chemicals that have no alternatives.

"Our goal is a simple one, that we should not specify products that are harmful to humans, animals and the environment," said Syrett.

Danger sign - / CC BY 2.0