Asbestos has been used as a building material for over 4,500 years, although during the Industrial Revolution asbestos was able to be mass produced for use in many building products. Most of us grew up in homes with asbestos-containing materials insulating the pipes in our basement or with asbestos shingles on the exterior of our houses. I remember working in the World Trade Center in the late 1980s when entire floors were closed off so the asbestos could be safely removed. The health risks associated with asbestos have been well documented for decades.
Despite the dangers, asbestos is still in use in the Unites States. It is used to make chlorine, and chlorine is used to make vinyl building products. The Healthy Building Network recently presented a report, TSCA Workplan Chemical Reports, to the US EPA on March 15, 2017, asking that the use of asbestos in the manufacture of chlorine be abolished. Although the Vinyl Organization states that chlorine is not harmful to the environment, building products made with asbestos are not green.
Manufacturing companies will tell you that their vinyl products are green and safe for the environment. They might be green because of their color in the sense that a white vinyl roof can earn LEED credits because of its low reflectivity. But it will not earn any credits for the pollution it will cause when the building goes up in smoke.
When will our buildings be truly green? Will we ever see a net-zero energy building constructed using building products that are free of all harmful materials and chemicals? Or buildings that use equipment powered with renewable energy? How about buildings that are free of all VOCs? Maybe I should hold my breath.