USGBC's Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee Issues Final Report on PVC

The Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC) of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) issued its final report this week to USGBC's LEED Steering Committee (LSC) on the technical and scientific basis for a PVC-related credit within the LEED® Green Building Rating System™.

TSAC's draft report for public comment was presented in December 2004.

Based on the extensive comments and white papers that were submitted in response to the draft report, TSAC expanded its analysis to address concerns and new data raised during the process, including end-of-life issues such as backyard burning and landfill fires. Burning PVC releases dioxins highly carcinogenic, persistent toxins that are a threat to human health.

The original charge to the committee was to review the evidence offered by stakeholders and independent sources. They were also to advise the LEED Steering Committee on the availability and quality of evidence as a basis for a reasoned decision about the inclusion of a PVC-related credit in LEED.

Malcolm Lewis, chairman of TSAC, expounded, "To do so, we investigated this question: For the applications studied, does the available evidence indicate that PVC-based materials are consistently among the worst of the alternative materials studied in terms of environmental and health impacts?" Lewis continued, "Through the course of our intense research and study, however, we concluded that a simple yes or no answer to this question was not adequate, and a more nuanced answer which points the way to dealing with some larger issues was essential."
In order to apply TSAC's findings to a decision about credits within LEED, the report points to a series of policy issues raised through TSAC's research.

These issues include:

  • How should risks to human health and risks to the natural environment be reconciled?
  • Should LEED offer credits for avoiding less desirable materials, or create credit incentives for the use of preferable, often innovative alternative materials or processes?
  • Should LEED address individual materials through its credits, or should it focus on areas of impact?

"With the report in hand, the LEED Steering Committee, which has received the report simultaneous to its release to stakeholders and the media, will begin review of the report and its recommendations, determine which policy issues to address first and engage USGBC's board of directors in that process," said Scot Horst, chairman of the LEED Steering Committee.

Horst continued, "The publication of the final TSAC report on PVC concludes one process and begins another. To that end, the LSC is meeting to begin developing a plan and timeline for USGBC's next steps."

Horst noted that any significant changes to LEED credits that may result from this process will follow USGBC's consensus process, including public comment and USGBC member ballot.

TSAC was created in 2000 as a mechanism to deal with the complex technical and scientific issues that are part of the continuing evolution of building science, an evolution that today is being driven in large part by emerging green building practices.

The PVC issue was referred to TSAC in 2002 in response to a proposal to add a LEED credit for avoiding the use of PVC that was being discussed by USGBC members serving on the LEED for Commercial Interiors development committee.

"Since then, our volunteer committee members have given generously of their time and expertise to tackle this important issue," said Tom Hicks, USGBC's vice president of LEED. "It's been an arduous task, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their commitment."

Over the course of their work, TSAC analyzed life cycle assessment, occupational exposure, end of life toxicity, risk assessment and combined LCA and risk assessment. As a part of this process, TSAC reviewed more than 2,000 documents, all of which are now posted on a database on USGBC's website.

Public comments and a peer review were also incorporated into the report. Public comments are also posted publicly at www.usgbc.org, and the results of the peer review are included in the final report.

Hicks noted, "USGBC recognizes that there are both strong environmental and human heath concerns, as well as significant industry and financial interests, at stake. We will need to continue to work closely with advocates on all sides of this issue to move forward and respond to the larger questions raised through TSAC's report."

"Clearly, a commitment to research must be a component of USGBC's leadership agenda, and a priority for the whole of the building industry," said S. Richard Fedrizzi, USGBC's president, chief executive officer and founding chairman. "TSAC's report identified critical gaps in our understanding of how materials impact our health and our environment. Americans spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and we've barely scratched the surface in our understanding of what that means to human health."


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