Substances in building products

A construction worker lags a slab.Click to enlarge
Some substances in building materials may be harmful to the environment and health.
Source: Udo Kroener / Fotolia.com

Building products (e.g. paints, varnishes, wood preservatives, woodworking materials, flooring and adhesives, wall and ceiling panelling, sealing materials, plaster, bricks, and cement) contain a great many substances that are released into indoor air, soil, or groundwater. They include organic or inorganic substances which may harm the environment or human health.

Volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Composite wood panels (particle board), for example, are in widespread use in Germany, mainly to cover large areas in indoor spaces.  The volatile ingredients they contain, e.g. formaldehyde or other aldehydes, are released into indoor air.  Particle board is one of several significant sources of indoor contamination. Various studies have investigated which hazardous substances in building products are released and in what amounts.  Conclusive information is currently lacking as to the impact of these substances should they be absorbed by humans, in low concentrations but over longer periods of time.  Adverse effects can therefore not categorically be ruled out.

Test criteria used as a basis on which to perform a uniform and clear health-related evaluation of building products in Germanyweredeveloped by the Committee for the Health Evaluation of Building Products (AgBB), whose offices are located at the Federal Environment Agency. The same criteria are to be applied to assess indoor air contamination by volatile organic compounds (VOC). The AgBB Committee has developed an evaluation scheme for the VOC emissions from building products used in indoor spaces.

European Construction Products Regulation

European trade of construction products has been facilitated by the European Construction Products Regulation.  It defines a framework for the approximation of laws governing laws of the Member States relating to building products and confers responsibility for drawing up product-specific standards to European standardisation authorities.  As a result, standardisation committees will define the criteria of environmental and health protection with the participation of other public authorities.  The Federal Environment Agency introduced environmental and health protection as a focus topic in the European process of standardisation in the area of construction in 2000.  The Agency reviews draft proposals for standardisation and authorisation in respect of potential impact on drinking water, groundwater, soil, and indoor air, and thus on the environment and health.

Opt for products bearing the Blue Angel

When purchasing building products consumers can find guidance in the Blue Angel For products to be awarded the Blue Angel, substantial account must be taken of health-related standards. For example, they may not contain substances which are carcinogenic, genotoxic, or teratogenic.  There are many products on the market with the Blue Angel.