Fire rated building materials are vital in preventing the spread of fire throughout a building, ensuring the safety of building occupants. However, as with all other building materials, some products are a better choice for the environment and human health compared to others. How these materials perform from a sustainability and health perspective should be just as important as their fitness for purpose, cost, and other considerations.
For example, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a class of brominated flame retardants, have been used in a wide range of products, including building materials, foams and textiles. PBDEs and some other classes of brominated flame retardants have been found in detectable levels in human blood and breast milk, despite being known to affect estrogen and thyroid hormone function. People are typically exposed to PBDEs through common household dust to which these chemicals stick after migrating from furniture and building products.
Thankfully, there are many products on the market that will meet fire safety requirements with a much lower impact on human health and the environment. The best way to ensure a product lives up to its green claims is to check for evidence of third-party certification, such as the Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) ecolabel.
Fire rated panel boards (such as plasterboard, gypsum board and cement board products) are an excellent example for showing how our choice of building materials matters. In Australia, approximately 30% by weight of resources disposed of in landfills comes from construction and demolition waste, and a significant proportion of this waste consists of panel boards. Health risks can arise from hazardous substances added during manufacture, and some interior panel boards may contain materials rich in naturally-occurring radioactive sources.
Some GECA certified panel boards with fire rating properties include CSR Gyprock EC08 Fire, CSR Gyprock Fyrchek, and USG Boral Firestop Plasterboard. All GECA certified panel boards must use a set amount of recycled, renewable or non-petrochemical components to help reduce their environmental burden, and they must be easy to recycle at the end of their useful life. They also have strict limits on the levels of hazardous substances present in the final product.
Other fire rated components, such as doors and ceiling systems or panels, are subject to similar requirements. Under GECA’s Furniture, Fittings and Foam standard, PBDEs and chlorinated organic flame retardants are banned across all stages of product manufacture. Australian-based manufacturer Studform have fire rated doors and ceiling systems certified through GECA.
Foam is perhaps one of the more notorious fire rated materials with a reputation for carrying hazardous flame retardant chemicals. However, it’s possible for a foam product to still achieve the highest possible fire rating and not contain dangerous PBDEs or other risky compounds. Joyce Foam manufactures foam products which meet GECA’s strict standards for environmental and human health while still providing a high level of fire protection.
Fire safety doesn’t have to come at the expense of human and environmental health – there are plenty of environmentally-preferable products available that will provide fire protection without exposing building occupants to a cocktail of hazardous compounds.
Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA)
– Australia’s only independent, not-for-profit, multi-sector ecolabelling program and only Australian member of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN)
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