Those of us in the business of creating healthy buildings and communities recognize the need to modernize our way of doing things. We are always looking for opportunities to improve energy efficiency, worker safety and customer satisfaction in cost-effective and environmentally sound ways.
That's why we supported AB127, a bill just signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that gives California designers, builders workers and consumers the opportunity to have modern fire safety standards along with the right to choose safe building insulation materials made without harmful chemicals.
Most people are not aware that the foam insulation in the walls of their homes and businesses contain toxic flame-retardant chemicals. California's outdated insulation flammability standards were developed in such a piecemeal fashion that some materials can only effectively meet the standard by using these toxic flame retardants.
Recent studies demonstrate that in many cases there is no additional fire safety benefit with the use of toxic flame-retardant chemicals in foam insulation. Instead, when buildings do burn, so do the chemicals, creating dangerous byproducts that put firefighters, building inhabitants and the community in further harm's way.
Emerging scientific studies link persistent toxic flame-retardant chemicals found in most foam insulation to hormone disruption and developmental problems in animals.
These chemicals have been found in food, human blood and breast milk around the world.
Adding these unnecessary flame-retardant chemicals not only adds costs to insulation manufacturers that are then passed on to consumers, but they also result in downstream costs to our health and the environment.
Assembly Bill 127 directs the state fire marshal to update our state's flammability standards, allowing the California Building Standards Commission to update building codes so that designers and builders can maintain overall building fire safety and address the concerns of an increasing number of consumers looking for greener, safer materials.
The bill ensures that builders and consumers have a choice in selecting insulation that is both less expensive and equally fire-protective without subjecting occupants, workers, firefighters or communities to the risks of harmful and ineffective chemicals.
We urge the fire marshal and the California Building Standards Commission to act quickly to update these out-of-date standards and help lead the way to safer environments for workers, builders, families, businesses and all communities in California.
We are all in the business of building for a healthier future, and AB127 is a step forward in creating healthy environments in all of our communities for generations to come.
Jean Hansen is sustainable interiors manager, HDR Architecture, Inc.; Michael Green is executive director, Center for Environmental Health; and Jim Weitkamp is vice president, Communications Workers of America, District 9.