I just found out we’ve reformulated our PROSOCO R-GUARD FastFlash air and waterproof barrier products to be phthalate-free. It’s pronounced “Thal – Eight.” The first syllable rhymes with “pal.”
What got us started was that the builders of Seattle’s Bullitt Center wanted to use FastFlash products. The Bullitt Center is aiming for certification as one of the world’s few “Living Buildings” — possibly the greenest of the green standards — beyond LEED Platinum, even. They wanted a FastFlash air and waterproof barrier because of FastFlash’s unprecedented ability to limit air, water and energy leaks through the building envelope.
The International Living Building Institute’s “Living Building Challenge” requires that the Bullitt Center, among other check points, use products that don’t contain phthalates.
So we looked into it and decided to reformulate to be phthalate-free. FastFlash products now meet Living Building Challenge requirements.
I had some questions, though.
What the heck’s a phthalate? And why couldn’t phthalates be part of a “living building?”
I did some homework, including talking to Tom Schneider, the lead scientist involved in the reformulation, and here’s what I found out about phthalates.
Phthalates are everywhere. They’re used as “plasticizers.” Plasticizers — and not all plasticizers are phthalates — are what allow plastics to be flexible enough to bend, yet strong enough not to break. They make products like FastFlash more “workable.” Without plasticizers, you couldn’t gun and spread Joint & Seam Filler, or apply Cat 5 by roller.
You couldn’t get shampoo to soak into your hair. You couldn’t make vinyl flooring, because it would be too thick to go through the extruder. Plasticizers are useful and necessary. It’s just the phthalate plasticizers that have come under scrutiny, and that only recently.
Center for Disease Control
Here’s a partial list of things, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, that have phthalates for plasticizing in them:
Phthalates are so omnipresent in our environment, they’ve found their way into our bodies, though in very small amounts. Here’s what the CDC says about how phthalates affect our health: Human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown. Some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals. More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to phthalates.
Environmental Working Group
You’ll find more pessimistic assessments of how phthaltes affect us in other websites, like that of the Environmental Working Group. This website states that phthalates “have been found to disrupt the endocrine system.” The site also notes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates phthalates as air and water pollutants.
The way we look at it is — if there’s a chance phthalates could be harmful to people who live in buildings made with PROSOCO products, then we’re not going to use them.
That stance presents its own challenge — making sure the reformulated non-phthalate FastFlash products perform as well as the original. We’ve spent the last two years ensuring there’s absolutely no difference. We spent the first year identifying alternative non-phthalate plasticizers. We took the second year evaluating how the various alternatives actually work in laboratory and field testing.
The result — our phthalate-free FastFlash air and waterproof barrier products are identical in appearance and performance to the phthalate versions — which we no longer make. FastFlash products still go on fast and easy, whether surfaces are damp or dry. They’re still instantly waterproof. They’re still vapor-permeable. And they still stop air leaks through wall assemblies at levels that let buildings like the Bullitt Center achieve Net Zero energy efficiency.
The only way to tell the difference between the new non-phthalate FastFlash products and the old is via a full-bore chemical analysis.
I suspect most manufacturers who use phthalates for plasticizers will eventually change over, carried by a growing tide of public opinion. I hope they don’t mind, but we’re not waiting.
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