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Healthy Building Materials

While villages, towns and cities can't require that all new construction projects avoid hazardous materials, they can institute policies for town-owned buildings that are protective for employees and visitors.


Paints and Stains: Most commercial paints, stains, finishes and adhesives contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic additives that have been linked to significant health and environmental problems. The primary route of exposure is respiration, and while acute exposure symptoms are easily recognized (dizziness, nausea, wheezing, coughing, etc.), symptoms related to chronic exposure may not be evident for years. These include neurological problems, asthma, endocrine disruption and certain types of cancer. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to these toxins and should avoid any exposure.

Low VOC paint

Carpets: The smell of new carpeting comes from chemicals volatilizing (off-gassing) into the air, chemicals which can exacerbate respiratory problems. Chemicals such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, are used in the manufacture of most commercial carpet and padding materials, and the adhesives used to cement carpet to floors often contain toxic solvents with very high VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) levels.

Bids for new carpeting should specify low-VOC adhesives. Areas with new carpeting should be fully ventilated before occupancy.

Kenmore, WA outlines its award-winning City Hall’s Sustainability features, including the use of low off-gassing materials such as paints, sealants and other interior finishes.

Oak Brook, IL specifies in its bid packages that contractors use only low VOC carpet adhesives.  This is a simple and direct way to make sure those who wish to do business with the village understand the requirements and can meet expectations.

Chevy Chase, MD provides tips on creating healthy indoor environments by reducing VOC exposure.


Santa Monica, CA's Green Office Buying Guide details the Regulations and Guidelines that govern paint in California, which impact over 90% of paints in use in the State, and have helped lead the industry to develop low-VOC coatings.  The site provides information on performance, cost, vendors, availability and more to help others make smart paint choices.


The Healthy Materials Lab at Parson's School of Design


​Green Seal is a non profit organization that rates products based on many factors that impact sustainability and environmental health.

The US EPA's page on Indoor Air Quality provides an overview of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and their impact on human health. 


This article from Facilities Net details how new paints and finishes have been developed to meet new standards for VOCs. It describes good painting practices and links to Green Seal's website which lists 70 paints that meet the qualifications for green building materials.

Grassroots Environmental Education has extensive information on common environmental toxins and their impacts on human health. 


[1] Loftness, V., et al. (2007) Elements That Contribute to Healthy Building Design. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(6), 965-970.

[2] Methner, M. M., et al. (2000) Occupational Health and Safety Surveillance Task-Based Exposure Assessment of Hazards Associated with Residential Construction. Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 15(11), 811-819. 

[3] Slack, R., et al. (2005) Household hazardous waste in municipal landfills: Contamination in leachate. Science of the The Total Environment, 337(1-3), 119-137.

[4] Bunch, A. G., et al. (2014). Evaluation of impact of shale gas operations in the Barnett Shale region on volatile organic compounds in air and potential human health risks. Science of The Total Environment, 468-469, 832-842. 

[5] Bailey, H. D., et al. (2015) Home paint exposures and risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: Findings from the Childhood Leukemia International Consortium [Abstract]. Cancer Causing & Control, 26(9), 1257-1270.

[6] Golden, J. A., et al. (2018). 27: Lesions Induced by Toxins. In Developmental Neuropathy (2nd ed.) Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 285-292.

[7] Marcham, C. L. (2015). Formaldehyde: Is It a Problem in My Home? (Rep.). Daytona Beach, FL: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, 1-11.

[8] Jia, C., et al. (2010). Sources and migration of volatile organic compounds in mixed-use buildings. Indoor Air, 20(5), 357-369. 

[9] Yu, C. W., & Kim, J. T. (2010). Building Pathology, Investigation of Sick Buildings - VOC Emissions. Indoor and Built Environment, 19(1), 30-39.

[10] Rossi, M., PhD, & Lent, T. (2006). Creating Safe and Healthy Spaces: Selecting Materials that Support Healing (Rep.). Concord, CA: The Center for Health and Design, 1-26.

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