The rollout of LEED V4 will spur a renewed focus on materials as a key measure in the popular rating system. If EPDs and LCAs are not yet a part of your working vocabulary, over the next year they will be. Of course, sometimes the list of toxic chemicals used in virtually every aspect of the building industry sparks the indignation that “we’re all downstream of something,” as noted in the "Material Health: Solving the Right Problems" panel at the 2013 Greenbuild Conference. The presentation offered four specific categories to watch out for.

Here are four red-alert areas for the built environment:

  • Flame retardants
  • Soil and stain resistants
  • Formaldehyde binders
  • Anti-microbial surfaces

What makes these specific categories so bad? Jay Bolus, vice president of technical operations for McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry and responsible for the development of the Cradle to Cradle Framework product certification program, notes the pervasiveness of both the use of these products and the bio-accumulation of their toxins. Moreover, since there aren't viable alternatives to these products, many builders simply settle for “less-bad” versions. "Today's acceptable may not be tomorrow’s,” Bolus says.