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Chemicals and their relationship to living beings and the planet is complicated. Some obviously occur naturally and are a valuable part of the ecosystem. Others have been created by humans and have largely positive uses with minimal negative effects. Still, many others with negative effects have been created during the industrial revolution giving rise to concerns for the health of our planet and all living things.
When specifying products, interior designers are concerned primarily with potentially dangerous chemicals used, created, or released during:
- the production, harvest, extraction, or creation of component elements
- the manufacturing process
- installation and application of materials
- the use of products
- the after life of products
The primary types of chemicals that are of concern:
Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBT) are of special concern because as the name indicates, they persist in the environment for a long time and accumulate up the food chain. Mercury is an example of a PBT.
Chemicals can be listed as known carcinogens or likely carcinogens.
Hazardous Air Pollutants, aka: toxic air pollutants
Volatile Organic Compounds, these are a type of HAP
Common interior finishes, furnishings, and substrates as well as cleaners, solvents, and paints are common sources of VOCs in the indoor environment.
Science can quantify the negative effects of individual chemicals under specific circumstances. We can even combine some chemicals and test for the effects of these new compounds. But, we have created a chemical soup with effects we can't clearly quantify. Therefore, avoiding and minimizing potentially harmful chemicals in processes and at any phase of a product's life cycle will lessen the burden on people and the ecosystems of our planet.