Addressing Social Justice and Environmental Health Issues in the Construction Industry: Polymers, Toxins, and Philadelphia Energy Solutions
The ubiquitous use of plastics in architectural design and construction obfuscates the very real health and life safety risks which exist when using petroleum-based polymers in the building industry. In the past 40 years, nearly all contemporary building materials have been re-engineered using polymer-based additives for the purposes of increasing a range of performance criteria. Even the most traditional of materials, wood, is typically re-materialized after harvesting with resins in order to increase structural strength and moisture resistance. Very little, however, is disclosed to architects, builders, clients and the general public about the potential health risks associated with adopting such large quantities of nonrenewable and nonrecyclable plastics in buildings. The parts per million of synthetic polymers typically found in newborns confirms the extent to which nearly everything in our built environment is permeated by materials derived from fossil fuels. This research project is dedicated to understanding and evaluating the very real risks posed by plastics in the building industry and developing protocols for transferring this information to building professionals, the industry’s affiliated members, and the general public. This research work first began in Fall 2018, when sponsored by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the Weitzman School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania, when an initial team of undergraduate students collaborated in the production of the following on-line digest, Fossil Fuels Building Industry and Human Health. The work is being presented at various conferences and will be published in the forthcoming book, Examining the Environmental Impacts of Materials and Buildings.