Sometimes the list of toxic chemicals used in virtually every aspect of the building industry has me throwing my hands up in the air and sighing, “We’re all downstream from something!” Still, one panel at Wednesday's session—"Material Health: Solving the Right Problems"—put forward four specific categories to watch out for.

Here are four red-alert areas for the built environment:

  • Flame retardants
  • Soil and stain resistants
  • Formaldehyde binders
  • Anti-microbial surfaces

What makes these specific categories so bad? Jay Bolus, vice president of technical operations for McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry and responsible for the development of the Cradle to Cradle Framework product certification program, notes the pervasiveness of both the use of these products and the bio-accumulation of their toxins. Moreover, since there aren't viable alternatives to these products, many builders simply settle for “less-bad” versions. "Today's acceptable may not be tomorrow’s,” Bolus says.

For those of you walking the show floor today, be on the hunt for red-zone solutions that could be tomorrow's acceptable—or better.

Editor’s note:’s parent company Hanley Wood recently entered into a strategic partnership with USGBC regarding the management of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.For more information on that relationship, click here