Green building experts caution over new ‘anti-viral’ materials

A group of leading green building organisations, architects, and scientists have warned that building materials with added antimicrobials have no proven health benefit – and may not be as green as they seem

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for antimicrobial chemicals in building products, such as doorknobs, countertops, and paint. In response to the surge of advertising for antimicrobial products, a number of bodies and academics with an interest in healthy building products sought evidence-based guidance for the building industry.

They found that outside of limited studies on copper, no building products with added antimicrobials have been shown to reduce viral infections in people. Worse, many of the chemicals are linked to health and environmental harm and could create resistance to antibiotics we depend on to fight disease.

‘Antimicrobials provide a false sense of protection from Covid-19 while posing other health threats…’

‘Unfortunately, the science behind antimicrobials in building products doesn’t live up to the marketing claims,’ said Tom Bruton, senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. ‘In fact, these products may be providing a false sense of protection from the novel coronavirus while posing other health threats.’

Chemicals not disclosed

Antimicrobials used in building products include quaternary ammonium compounds, which are thought to be associated with asthma ­– a potential risk factor for severe Covid-19. Another substance, triclosan, which is reported to disrupt hormone functioning, is banned in hand soaps but is still used in some building products. Yet the identities of the chemicals used in products are often not disclosed.

In a joint statement, the group concludes that antimicrobials should not be used in building products when not required for product preservation. The authors urge building product manufacturers to practice truthful advertising and to disclose the compounds they use. They also call for more hazard assessments and research.

‘Building experts urge manufacturers to practice truthful advertising…’

‘Now more than ever, we should strive to create healthier spaces for people to live and work,’ said Gina Ciganik, chief executive of the Healthy Building Network. ‘Architects, designers and building owners should take a precautionary approach and avoid unproven solutions with known harms.’

The signed authors of the joint statement include: the Healthy Building Network; the Green Science Policy Institute; Perkins & Will; the International Living Future Institute; and the Health Product Declaration Collaborative.

Other signatories include: Heather Buckley, assistant professor at the University of Victoria; Erica Hartmann, assistant professor at Northwestern University; and Megan R Schwarzman, associate director of Berkeley Centre for Green Chemistry; in addition to Brightworks Sustainability; ZGF Architects; Health Care Without Harm; the Centre for Environmental Health; and HKS.

Andrew Sansom is editorial director of SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange
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