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Chemicals in building products

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Building products are a highly variable product group encompassing a diverse range of materials in different applications, such as steel, concrete or wood but also plastic and polymer materials in insulation foam or epoxy resins. Like many other products, these materials are often a complex composition of individual chemical constituents, some of which may exhibit hazardous effects on human health and the environment.

Hazardous chemicals in building products can impact human health and the environment at various stages of their life cycle: during construction, exposure of workers can lead to severe health effects. Also, during the use phase of a building, hazardous chemicals can be released from materials and adversely affect occupants and office workers and can reach the environment. Lastly, exposure of workers and the environment to hazardous chemicals may also occur during end-of-life stages, such as retrofitting, demolition, recycling or deposition of building products.

The global construction sector is expected to grow by 3.5% annually, with its chemical market projected to grow by 6.2% annually between 2018 and 2023. This growth will primarily be driven by the rapidly urbanizing Asian and African regions (Global Chemicals Outlook II). With this growth, there are many opportunities to use safer chemicals and building materials for construction and the global green building materials market is expected to grow from 2016 to 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 11.9% (Global Chemicals Outlook II).

Chemicals of concern in building products have been a priority sector for activities under the Strategic Approach to Chemicals Management (SAICM). A current project aims at accelerating the adoption of measures by governments and value chain stakeholders to reduce the use of chemicals of concern in building products.

  • Policy document
    Understanding chemicals in products: SAICM Policy Brief

    Understanding chemicals in products: SAICM Policy Brief

    The transparency of information about chemicals in global supply chains has been an emerging policy issue for the Strategic Approach to...

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  • Report
    Chemicals of Concern in the Building and Construction Sector

    Chemicals of Concern in the Building and Construction Sector

    This UNEP report aims at providing an overview of the challenge that chemicals of concern pose in the context of products relevant for the building...

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  • Academic article
    Life cycle based alternatives assessment (LCAA) for chemical substitution

    Life cycle based alternatives assessment (LCAA) for chemical substitution

    The world faces an increasing need to phase out harmful chemicals and design sustainable alternatives across various consumer products and industrial applications. Alternatives assessment is an emerging field focusing on identifying viable solutions to substitute harmful chemicals. However, current methods fail to consider trade-offs from human and ecosystem exposures, and from impacts associated with chemical supply chains and product life cycles. To close this gap, we propose a life cycle based alternatives assessment (LCAA) framework for consistently integrating quantitative exposure and life cycle impact estimates in the substitution process.

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  • Project document
    Project document: Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

    Project document: Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

    Project document of Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

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  • Report
    Global Waste Management Outlook

    Global Waste Management Outlook

    Better waste management offers great potential to help us meet the sustainability challenges ahead. Targeting decision-makers and many other inter...

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