In early December 2021, Spec Matters presented to Whiting Turner, a national construction firm, to talk about the Spec Matters Initiative: To empower the building industry to write healthier specifications and make better material selections — because these decisions matter. Architects cannot drive change alone. It is crucial for contractors to get on board and be active participants in the healthy building movement.
Impact on construction workers:
Scientists and health professionals have expressed concerns regarding chemicals that are used throughout the building industry for decades. OSHA estimates that American workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths per year that are related to chemical exposures (OSHA).
Residents who live near industrial facilities are subjected to chemical spills and environmental pollutants from chemicals used in manufacturing processes (EJHA). Low-income households are also exposed to substandard building materials. These materials break down when they are not maintained, posing environmental health hazards to many Americans.
The production of toxic materials takes a great toll on the environment and has a compounding effect on our resources. Production of chemicals and products is often energy-intensive and based on fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions exacerbate climate change, leading to increasingly powerful storms and fires, with increasingly high and recurring costs for recovery. The costs of environmental contamination can include reduced property values, loss of income, and reduced food production from the contamination of farms. This includes damage to wildlife and ecosystems, too (The Food and Agriculture Organization).
It is important to share with contractors the chemicals that are most commonly found in building products that are most detrimental to human health and wellbeing. We turned to sources such as https://www.sixclasses.org/ and the Healthy Building Network to shed light on the dangers that construction workers may be facing on the job. Knowing the risks is the first step in asking the right questions and making informed decisions when it comes to materials. Educating construction professionals makes them powerful allies and is crucial in times when government regulations are not caught up to ensure the safety of our environments.
WHAT CAN CONTRACTORS DO?
Become advocates for healthier materials:
Subs and contractors can leverage existing relationships with manufacturers to inquire about healthier alternatives. With widespread demand and procurement of healthier building products, we can expect continued improvement and healthier options from manufacturers (AIA).
Participate in the movement for transparency:
A push for transparency is integral in creating change. We have a right to know what is in our products. Disclosing the material content, social, and environmental impacts of a product opens up a conversation about the possibility of a palette of healthier options that are cost-and performance effective (AIA). One way to increase transparency is to request Health Product Declaration, which lists ingredients and their associated health hazards. Contractors can easily participate by attaching this HPD request letter when corresponding to manufacturers and suppliers.
Are you a contractor who is interested in learning more about healthier materials and actionable ways in which you can drive change in the building industry and ensure the health and safety of your workers and subs? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Need other ways to take action? Sign up for our Spec Matters newsletters. You’ll receive free, bi-weekly, 5-minute informational reads that break down different products and their health concerns and provide tips on how to create healthier specs and make more informed material choices.
Rema Qasmieh is a Designer at JKRP Architects in Philadelphia. She joined the firm in 2021 after graduating from Temple University. Her love for design and collaboration has involved her in many creative endeavors in college, such as social media manager for the AIAS. She became VP for the AIAS after attending a very inspiring grassroots conference in DC.
Rema is a member of the JKRP’s Library Committee and by joining Spec Matters, she hopes to expand her knowledge on sustainable materials and emerging practices and tools for the betterment of the environment.
In her free time, Rema enjoys drinking coffee, hiking with her siblings, playing with her sister’s dog, Bowie, and listening to funky music.