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Report Ties Indoor Paint, Adhesives to Asthma

Thursday, August 9, 2012

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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.

 The report lists 374 substances that are known asthmagens and asthma triggers, including 75 that are in paints and adhesives.

 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

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.

 CDC’s  Arlen Specter Headquarters Building in Atlanta, GA

 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.


Tagged categories: Architects; Contractors; Green building; Health and safety; Indoor air quality; Painters; Perkins+Will; Specifiers

Comment from M. Halliwell, (8/10/2012, 10:39 AM)

Indoor air quality has been an issue for a long time. Heck, when I was doing graduate work (13 years ago now), I was involved in an air quality study contrasting 2 suburbs (one downwind of a series of refineries, one upwind...the refineries were the "big" issue being looked at, but we had the data for a lot of secondary projects too) and indoor air quality was worse...far worse...even downwind. My protion of the work involved apportionment for sources in the houses. Paint, furniture, carpets, attached garages, central heating, storage of household chemicals and such were aoll known issues for indoor air quality at that time. It's interesting to see the link to asthma, but the indoor air quality issues are nothing new.

Comment from Brandt Salo, (8/10/2012, 12:39 PM)

The saddest fact is that Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors!!! The increase in asthma-related issues for youngsters, with today's two-income families being a necessity, is saddest yet since often their time spent indoors is at locations other than their homes and potentially subject to greater exposures. Part of the answer, depending upon the state of the outdoor environment at their location, is to chase the youngsters out of doors. Today's prevalence of electronics doesn't foster participation in exterior group activities with or without structure that would help to build lung and breathing sufficiency. Getting more active outdoors and doing less electronics would also aid in the fight against childhood obesity. Rather than being spoon-fed someone else's fantasy,if outdoors perhaps youngsters would be encouraged to redevelop and make use of their individual imaginations. That lost art kept me and the neighborhood kids busy and only moderately in trouble growing up - and I'll fess up, this is a 50+ year backward glance. Indoor air quality then was not an 'issue'. Probably present, as there were still the cleaners and chemicals and some harsher than those around today, but I'll give you that there were likely less overall. The frequency of our comings and goings from the house on any given day however, assured a robust turnover of an ample number of air changes in a 24 hour cycle. I understand the need for tighter houses today to conserve our declining energy resources, and that in some environments mechanical equipment recycles various percentages of the indoor air which of itself could be concentrating some of the known asthmagens. Its unfortunate that for all of our 'progress' across the broad spectrum that is 'life' today, that our health now suffers for want of so simple of an answer as was present in my Mother's lament of "Why don't I just build a barn door on the side of the house for you kids?" Let's all get up, get out, and get moving, and see if in the long haul, that our health doesn't improve?

Comment from Dwayne Fuhlhage, (8/10/2012, 3:51 PM)

A more accurate title might be: "Report Notes Asthma Causing Ingredients Present in Some Coatings and Sealants". I applaud Perkins+Will for stimulating a conversation with the value chain on the presence or absence of chemicals of concern. Specifiers will increasingly base their purchasing decisions based on this type of information. However, we should not lose sight of the context of this document as found in the text on page eleven: "It is critical to understand that not all product types will contain each substance listed, nor will each substance listed be found in every product manufactured within that product typology. Nonetheless, this list should act as a starting point to prompt a discussion between the designer and manufacturer or sales representative about the exact composition of a product. This very conversation could ultimately spark a broader discussion on how to bring more awareness and transparency to the often obscured building product industry." These conversations will happen one-on-one, through programs like the Living Building Challenge and the open platform Health Product Declaration system. Presumably, the building designer will include this information in weighing all of the other performance, aesthetic and durability considerations. The content metric may also consider potential for exposure to building occupants. Fair enough. Let the best product win.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/14/2012, 9:58 AM)

It would be very interesting to see what exactly the air quality contribution is from various housing components as deployed, and how it changes over time. For example - paint might be the biggest contributor initially, but after 48 hours has dropped to one of the lowest, while cabinetry could be emitting moderate amounts of formaldehyde for months to years. Rather than just saying that various items "contribute" or "can contribute" in a vague sort of way we should be quantifying "how much" and "how long."

Comment from M. Halliwell, (8/15/2012, 11:46 AM)

Tom, there has been a fair bit of research done...if you do a search for reports / scientific articles on indoor air quality apportionment, you'll likely find what you are looking for.

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