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Health Product Declarations

8/1/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by John D. Wagner


You’ll Need to Know About Them on Any Project Associated with the LEED Building Standard.

There is a new type of product declaration that’s increasingly part of LEED 4, and it’s called an HPD, or Health Product Declaration. (Don’t confuse HPDs with Environmental Product Declarations, a.k.a EPDs. EPDs disclose the product’s impact in a life cycle assessment.)

HPDs are taking hazard reporting to a new level of granularity, because HPDs report on the chemicals in building products that represent any potential concern. You can tell by the HPD logo, which shows chemical bonds, that we are now examining products at the molecular level, all in an effort to render entirely transparent the potential dangers of elements and compounds in all building products.

How do HPDs determine if a chemical is potentially hazardous? HPDs refer to “hazard” lists published by the government and scientific associations. Each HPD includes these items:

  • Full disclosure of “intentional ingredients” and residuals or known hazards, in descending order of quantity.
  • “Certifications and Compliance,” VOC content that lists certifications and compliance for interior finish materials and any wet-applied materials.
  • “Accessory Materials,” any products required for installation or for maintenance, cleaning or operations.

Strict, right? Fact is, HPDs are really just a logical extension of the LEED standard, where environmental stewardship, both interior and exterior, is diligent…and that means reducing all known hazards. The first step to reducing know hazards is identifying them, so that anyone manufacturing, shipping, handling, delivering, installing, or maintaining building products is aware of risks. (You can only imagine the HPDs that would’ve been issued from the garages or tool rooms where most of us grew up. Benzene (a cancer risk), creosote (a cancer risk), lead paint (a neurotoxin) and pentachlorophenol (highly toxic)…and don’t forget all the pesticides Dad used to dust the roses. We’d be awash in HPDs, just covering what went into Saturday chores around my childhood home in the 1960s.)

Central to the central to the HPDs is the Hazardous Chemicals List, which itself has interesting origins. Chemicals used in building products are cross-referenced against other lists of hazardous chemicals, and those lists have been ranked by the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals. The ranking shows what chemicals pose health risks ranging from “moderate” to “very high” for such indicators as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, immune system effects, irritants to the skin issues, and endocrine disruption. The list goes beyond human health to environmental health; chemicals end up listed if they relate to global warming and ozone depletion.

As you can imagine, some manufacturers complain that the HPDs are onerous to write, and that they can be misleading, because people may spot trace amounts of a dangerous chemical and think that purchasing that product is the equivalent of sprinkling toxic waste on their morning bagel. Nonetheless, we just have to adjust. As we see LEED get more and more specific in requiring transparency to the chemical level for building products, HPDs are here to stay. As a contributor of products for LEED projects, learn how to read them, and teach others how to read them, and you’ll be a star for promoting environmental awareness.

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