Can furniture be hazardous? You bet it can…

From halogenated flame retardants in foam cushions to hexavalent chromium in upholstery materials, everyday office furniture often comes with troubling human health concerns.

And furniture is only the tip of a very toxic iceberg of hazards you need to watch out for when specifying building products and materials — starting with your site and building envelope… and all the way in to your interior finishes.

Yet designers and specifiers for Google, HOK, Turner Construction and other leading firms are figuring out that it is possible to identify healthier products and materials and still create gorgeous, energy-efficient, occupant-friendly buildings — without busting budgets or getting overwhelmed by complex health and chemical data.

A handbook of common hazards — with 4 clear steps for keeping the worst dangers out of your buildings

A new BuildingGreen special report — Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects — details approaches used by architects, designers, contractors and building owners to reduce chemical hazards in their building projects…

We added BuildingGreen's insights for designers and spec writers on which hazards to watch out for in the major building product and material categories…

The report also provides free online access to deep ingredient information from Pharos and other sources…

…and names our picks for the top performers in each major building product category.

Step 1 Identify the 5 worst toxic hazards

Toxic substances come in different forms and have different health effects. But only these 5 classes of chemicals rate a high across-the-board priority for your green building decisions:


Cause, promote, or aggravate cancer

Reproductive or developmental toxicants

Can lead to birth defects, low birth weight, and functional or behavioral weaknesses


Cause mutations or chromosome abnormalities

Endocrine disruptors

Mimic or block the actions of hormones


Affect the nervous system and brain functions

Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects focuses on these highest-priority health hazards for humans, and shows you practical ways to reduce or even eliminate them in your buildings.

Step 2 Apply our rule-of-thumb guidance on what to spec—and what not to spec

  • A quick guide to 33 common hazards — what they are, what harm they cause to human health, and where to look for them
  • Specific guidance for 20 product categories in Interior Finish and Furniture, Mechanical and Electrical, Envelope, and Exterior Finish and Site
  • For each building product category, a reality check — cost, availability, and tradeoffs
  • Recommended products and links to detailed listings in our online GreenSpec guide
  • Links to in-depth ingredient information in the Pharos databases
  • Links to expanded reports in Environmental Building News

Step 3 EPDs, red lists, certifications and databases can help you make decisions about toxic substances. We'll show you their strengths and limitations.

How to set priorities for reducing health hazards — and balance toxicity concerns with other considerations How to use the Pharos Building Product and Chemical libraries to evaluate building product ingredients
When — and when not — to use red lists and product certifications A chart showing how the major multi-attribute certifications address toxicity
How to read material safety data sheets What information EPDs will and won’t provide, and how the emerging Health Product Declaration Open Standard could complete the picture

Step 4 Apply lessons from four case studies showing how architects, designers, contractors and clients can collaborate to avoid building product health hazards

  • How Google keeps most toxic substances out of its interiors
  • How a hospital project eliminated ten common hazards of major concern
  • Details of two facilities at botanical gardens, both of which are pursuing Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum certification

Get Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects risk-free

For the special BuildingGreen member price of $99 (compared to $129 for non-members), you get:

  • Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects (An 86-page PDF download with dozens of links to additional information)
  • And, Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects is approved for 8 AIA HSW learning units, 8 CE hours towards the LEED Credential Maintenance Program, and 3 ILFI CEUs.

The BuildingGreen Guarantee: If for any reason you are dissatisfied with Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects, you may request a full refund — no questions asked.

© 2016 BuildingGreen, Inc.