Warning: Walls May be Hazardous to Your Health
"Peter Syrett, an architect, and Chris Youssef, an interior designer, believe that building materials should be labeled, just like cereal boxes and soup cans, so consumers can avoid ingredients that might be harmful."
In an article published Wednesday, The New York Times spoke with two members of architecture firm Perkins + Will about an online database they've created to track building products. Their website, transparency.perkinswill.com, provides a compendium of common materials used in construction, cross-referencing them with government warnings and component substance lists.
Homeowners won't like what they read. PVC, the third most commonly used plastic in the world and one found in most modern plumbing systems, is a known carcinogen. Particle board contains formaldehyde. Natural wood is treated with pesticides and hardeners. Nearly everything manufactured has been chemically altered at some point. As Youssef said, "People need to understand: no material is pristine these days. Even if it starts out natural, it ends up being transformed through industrial processes."
The Transparency website was created to convince manufacturers to label their products with ingredients lists, but what Syrett and Youssef have done is more than that. They have created, without government mandate or intervention, a system to ensure safety and compliance in their industry. They saw what was happening with children's products, saw the overall trends among consumers, and created a way to address the issue before there was a media firestorm about it.
Their database is not a safety and compliance program in and of itself. Particle board and PVC are perfectly legal to use in construction. Perkins + Will simply put the information out there, available to the world. What do you think will happen when John Q. Public reads that the boards in his cabinet were treated with formaldehyde?
The same thing that happened to BPA. "People stated asking about BPA, and soon manufacturers were labeling products as BPA-free," Syrett said. Consumers will complain, and manufacturers will be forced to remove the chemical from their products. It doesn't matter if the chemical is realistically harmful, because the PR absolutely is.