Red list of Materials

Jump to navigation Jump to search


The Red List of Materials is a tool developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) to identify and document the "worst in class" materials, chemicals, and elements that have been, and are being, used in building products. All of these materials pose serious risks to human health and the greater ecosystem. The Red List is one component of the ILFI Living Building Challenge program. The goal is to produce construction pieces that are free of toxins and harmful chemicals by avoiding all compounds on this list.

The entire list of almost 12000 chemicals can be downloaded here. Below is a table showing the 2023 chemical classification summary of the Red List materials:

Chemical class Typical uses Risks Current status (in US unless otherwise mentioned)
Alkylphenols and related compounds Cleaning products, beauty products, contraceptives, coatings, fragrances, thermoplastics, carbonless copy paper, and agrochemicals Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) bioaccumulate and have been shown to cause endocrine disruption in fish Being phased out; some are restricted or banned in Europe
Antimicrobials marketed with a health claim Soaps, lotions, sprays, tapes as well as building materials (countertops, paints, and doorknobs) Health benefits of their use have not been established or substantiated; some antimicrobials are endocrine disruptors, and have been shown to impair learning and weaken muscle function Nineteen antimicrobials were banned in soaps and bodywashes by the FDA in 2016; regulated as a pesticide but still is used as a preservative
Asbestos compounds Wall insulation, vinyl floor coverings, paint compounds, roofing, pipe covers, heat-resistant fabrics, and automobile brakes A known human carcinogen, increasing risks of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis Banned by the EPA in 1989, but overturned by court in 1991. It is designated as a hazardous substance that must be reported
Bisphenol A (BPA) and structural analogues To manufacture polycarbonate plastics, epoxy, phenoxy and polysulfone resins that used in consumer products, such as drink bottles, DVDs, eyeglass lenses, electronics, car parts, lining food cans and water pipes BPA exposure adversely effect neurological and male sex organ function and development in fetuses, infants, and small children Most health organizations advise against the use of BPA for baby bottles and related infant products
California banned solvents See Proposition 65 list here
Chlorinated polymers, including PVC, PVDC, Chloroprene (Neoprene monomer) and CPVC Vinyl chloride monomer is a known human carcinogen; the manufacture and disposal of chlorinated polymers can produce dioxins. Dioxins are some of the most potent toxins known to humans, with no known safe limit for exposure; they a bioaccumulate and do not breakdown
Chlorobenzenes Used primarily as a solvent, a degreaser for auto parts, and a chemical intermediary for making other chemicals Short-term exposure can cause headaches, sleepiness, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness. Chronic (long-term) exposure can cause increased signs of neurotoxicity (numbness, etc.) and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. In animals, chronic exposure has also caused kidney and liver damage.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) Depletion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs) is responsible for an increased incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, impairment of human immune systems, and damage to wildlife CFCs have been banned from production in the US since 1979; HCFCs are targeted for gradual phaseout with a total ban going into effect in the year 2030
Formaldehyde It occurs naturally in coal and wood smoke; also found in indoor environments evolved items such as new particle board, freshly laid carpet, foam, adhesives, insulation, and new fabrics A known human carcinogen; low levels of exposure to this volatile organic compound include irritation, sensitization, and trigger asthma; long-term exposure is associated with nasal cancers and leukemia
Monomeric and polymeric and organophosphate Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs) HFRs include PBDE, TBBPA, HBCD, Deca-BDE, TCPP, TCEP, Dechlorane Plus, and other retardants with Bromine or Chlorine used in virtually all foam insulations; and some fabric coatings HFRs are persistent bioaccumulative toxins, meaning that they accumulate in organisms and the broader environment; adverse effects on neurological development, reproduction, thyroid hormone disruption and possible liver toxicity.
Organotin compounds Production of PVC, silicone rubber, and Polyurethane Memory loss, eye irritation, and liver damage; some neurotoxins and acute exposure can be lethal; they are persistent in the environment and pose a threat to aquatic life at elevated concentrations. Animal studies have indicated organotin compounds might damage the immune and nervous systems
Perfluorinated and Polyfluorinated Alkyl substances (PFAs)/Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) Applications include roofing materials, paints and coatings, sealants, caulks, adhesives, carpets, and more; used to provide weatherproofing, corrosion prevention, lubrication, friction reduction, and grease and water resistance Most individual PFAS have not been studied for their impacts to human and environmental health, their persistence contributes to bioaccumulation to levels that we know to be potentially harmful
Phthalates (orthophthalates) Plasticizers The endocrine disrupting nature of phthalates has implications for childhood and reproductive development, as well as cancer incidence The European Union and over a dozen countries have banned the use of phthalates in children’s products, as has the State of California.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) PCBs make good coolants, lubricants, and insulators for electrical equipment of all kinds. Cause cancer in animals and are probable human carcinogens, but exposure tends to be limited to people who worked in the electrical industry many years ago, lived close to manufacturing sites, and/or ate contaminated fish; health effects also include acne-like skin conditions and neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children PCB manufacturing in the United States stopped in 1977
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Produced by the incomplete combustion of organic material, particularly wood and fossil fuels; inhaled in tobacco smoke or smoke from indoor stoves fueled by wood or coal; ingested by eating burned meat. PAHs are also used to manufacture certain types of dyes Exposure to PAHs is linked to lung, skin, and urinary cancer, and short-term exposure may cause vomiting and diarrhea. Almost every American has detectable levels of PAHs in their body.
Short chain and medium-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs & MCCPs) SCCPs are most commonly used as lubricants and coolants in metal cutting and forming operations and are also used, along with MCCPs, as secondary plasticizers and flame retardants in plastics, such as PVC. Human exposure can be occupational, via inhalation of metalworking mists, or through contaminated food and dermal contact. Environmental exposure is usually from manufacturing activities, such as production, disposal, incineration, spills into waterways, and sewage effluent. SCCPs and MCCPs are persistent and very bioaccumulative in sediment. They have been found in marine mammals, other biota, and human breast milk in both industrial and remote areas. Toxic effects on mammals can include liver, hormone, and kidney damage that over a long term could lead to cancer in those organs
Toxic heavy metals (including Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium (VI), Lead, and Mercury) Overexposure can occur even when only trace amounts are present, such as during smelting and electroplating activities; Chromium (VI) is used primarily for chrome plating of metals for decorative or protective finishes, making stainless steel, leather tanning, anti-corrosive agents for paints, and in textile dyes and pigments. * Cd is a human carcinogen associated with lung cancer; acute and long-term exposures can lead to lung and kidney damage, bone loss, and hypertension
* Cr exposure through inhalation can cause nasal irritation and ulcers, breathing problems, and nasal and lung cancer; Ingestion can cause anemia and/or stomach tumors. Skin contact can cause skin ulcers and allergic reactions
* Pb exposure is damaging to virtually every organ and system in the human body, but is particularly damaging to the brain and central nervous system—profoundly so for young children and developing fetuses
* Hg is highly toxic and bioaccumulates in the environment
* As is an acute toxin and a known human carcinogen.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in wet applied products On-site wet applied products (paints, adhesives, and sealants) are of particular concern because they can directly impact the health of installers who may not be using breathing or dermal protection Not banned outright. Wet-applied products (including coatings, adhesives, and sealants) applied on site must meet the following established emissions and/or VOC content standards:
Wood treatments containing creosote or Pentachlorophenol (PCP) Used to retard rot and insect damage Creosote is associated with skin and scrotum cancer in humans, and liver, kidney, and gestational problems in laboratory animals. PCP is linked to liver and immune system damage in humans, and reproductive and thyroid damage in laboratory animals. PCP was banned for use in the US in 1987

Resources and Citations