In addition to the smog on the horizon searing our lungs, the sun's ultraviolet rays baking our skin, and the distracted driver bearing down on us as we cross the street, we can add to our list of potential health concerns the walls, flooring, pipes and other components of the buildings we live, work and play in.
As the post-industrial era deepens, maybe we should start wearing hazmat suits.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. While we might think we're safer inside, building materials, which don't currently have ingredients lists, are getting more complex -- and sometimes more toxic -- all the time.
Health concerns about our indoor environment are nothing new. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral once widely employed by the building industry because of its insulating and fire-retarding properties, has been shown to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. Its use is now tightly regulated.
Other building materials may pose greater risks.
Knowns and unknowns
The concern today is not primarily over things that we know about. It's about the potential health effects of chemicals that are components of building materials -- and, at times, the materials themselves -- of whose presence, or toxicity, we are often unaware.