Scores of substances used in interior paints, coatings, adhesives and other building materials may be contributing to the world’s growing asthma problem, a new report says.
The report, released Wednesday (Aug. 8), identifies 374 substances found in building products and materials that are known asthmagens and asthma triggers. The list includes 75 substances found in paints and adhesives commonly used in indoor environments.
Perkins + Will
|The report lists 374 substances that are known asthmagens and asthma triggers, including 75 that are in paints and adhesives.|
The report was prepared by New York-based Perkins + Will, an international architectural and design firm, for the National Institutes of Health, Office of Research Facilities, Division of Environmental Protection.
Healthy Environments: A Compilation of Substances Linked to Asthma, highlights the “lurking public threat of asthmagens in the built environment,” according to Peter Syrett, leader of sustainability efforts at Perkins + Will’s New York office.
Billed as the first study of its kind, the report is meant to raise awareness of the connection between health and buildings, to encourage the use, design and construction of “healthy buildings.”
“This report complements Perkins + Will’s precautionary list and transparency website in educating the public on the potentially harmful impact of buildings on the environment and human health,” Syrett said.
Paints and Adhesives
The report identifies 75 specific substances in paints and adhesives linked to asthma. In addition, it notes, building occupants can be exposed to many more trigger substances unique to their occupations.
Some of the known or suspected asthmagens found in paints, coatings and adhesives include epoxy resins, carmine, acrylates, solvents, hard metals, isocyanates, and anhydrides, according to the report.
James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
|Many indoor environments have pollutant levels two to five times higher—and occasionally more than 100 times higher—than outdoor levels due to occupant activities, building materials and ambient conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shown here is the CDC’s Arlen Specter Headquarters Building in Atlanta, GA.|
In addition to building materials and substances affecting indoor air quality, the report calls out many household cleaning, personal care, and hobby products; central heating and cooling systems; and humidification devices that contain asthmagens.
Defining the Problem
Asthma is a common respiratory disease in which the airways unexpectedly and suddenly narrow; the illness currently affects an estimated 23 million Americans, including 7.1 million children, according to the report.
Further, the frequency of the disease is growing at an alarming rate, the report said.
“According to the Global Initiative for Asthma, ‘there may be an additional 100 million persons with asthma by 2025’ and asthma rates in children under the age of five have increased more than 160% from 1980 to 1994,” the report said.
The annual cost burden associated with the disease is in the $20 billion range, including nearly $10 billion in direct health care cost and more than $8 billion in indirect costs such as lost earnings due to illness.
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality of the built environment has come under sharply increased scrutiny in recent years. “Many indoor environments have pollutant levels two to five times higher and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels, due to occupant activities, building materials and ambient conditions,” the report said, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moreover, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors according to the Environmental Protection Agency.