A report published by the Chemicals and Health Service of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), as part of a project under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) ), identifies chemicals of concern in building and construction – one of the most chemical intensive downstream sectors of the chemical industry. The publication also highlights the gaps, challenges and opportunities for increasing circularity in the building and construction industry.
The report “Chemicals of Concern in the Building and Construction Industry” covers chemicals with documented applications in building materials and other products, formulations intended for permanent incorporation into the built environment. and chemicals that may be of concern for at least one life cycle. floor of a building. This also includes chemicals and formulations used for installing building products, such as adhesives for installing floor tiles.
Construction and demolition waste often represents a country’s largest proportion of the total waste generated.
Building and construction is the largest end-market for chemicals and the sector that generates the highest chemical revenues. Its products include basic chemicals such as plastic resins (eg PVC) and specialty chemicals such as paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, advanced polymers and additives. Driven by rapidly accelerating urbanization, the global construction sector is expected to grow by 3.5% per year, with its chemicals market growing by 6.2% per year, between 2018 and 2023.
Compared to other consumer products, such as textiles, electronics or toys, products relevant to the building and construction sector are used only in the context of the built environment and, therefore, directly linked to the life cycle of buildings. The life cycle of a building can last from decades to centuries and is much longer than that of other products. This creates a greater mismatch between the design and manufacturing stages of a construction product and its end-of-life stages. During this time, knowledge improves about chemicals, their dangers and their potential impacts on health and the environment. The report notes that the issue of legacy chemicals is therefore important to consider in the building and construction sector.
At their end of life, construction and construction products enter the waste stream as construction and demolition waste, which often accounts for the largest proportion of the total waste generated in a country. The chemicals of concern in construction and demolition hazardous waste can present a significant risk of environmental pollution and human health impacts if not managed properly.
In addition, information on the composition of individual products or groups of products is often not readily available to the public, making it difficult to identify and address chemicals of concern in specific applications and products. Also with regard to the gaps, information on chemicals in construction products tends to reflect their use only in developed countries, and not in developing countries and economies in transition.
The authors highlight the need for additional research and collaborations to address emerging concerns about additional chemicals in the sector. They advise a precautionary approach when evidence of concern emerges or where there are gaps in data on potential hazards and impacts.
The sound management of chemicals and waste is integral to and transcends the SDGs. SDG targets 12.4 (achieve environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle) and 3.9 (reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals) are directly relevant, while many other SDGs and targets cannot be achieved without healthy chemicals and wastes good management. Thus, the treatment of chemicals of concern in building and construction offers significant opportunities for sustainable development.
The report recommends:
- increase the transparency of information on chemicals;
- ensure the flow of information throughout the life cycle of construction products;
- designing for circularity;
- for existing buildings, minimize the impacts of old chemicals while developing new recycling technologies; and
- targeted regulatory action.
The May 2021 publication was developed as part of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project on Global best practices on emerging chemical policy issues of concern under SAICM. The project is funded by the GEF, implemented by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and executed by the SAICM Secretariat. [Publication: Chemicals of Concern in the Building and Construction Sector] [Landing Page]