California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Sustainable (Green) Building

Building Material Emissions Study (BMES)

Study Purpose

In June 2001, the CIWMB, now known as Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle),  commissioned a Building Material Emissions Study, which utilized the Section 01350 indoor air quality testing protocols to measure emissions of products common to classrooms and state construction in comparison to alternative products. For the purpose of this study, alternative products not only contained recycled content, but also included low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and rapidly renewable materials.

CalRecycle promotes recycled-content products as one sustainable feature in green building design and construction. Not only do recycled-content products create markets for materials that have been collected through the recycling process, but they are also an essential component of California local (AB 939 Sher) and state (AB 75 Strom-Martin) government efforts to meet and exceed the 50 percent waste diversion mandate. Prior to this study, little was known regarding emissions from such products. As a result, recycled-content products were subject to greater scrutiny than their virgin-content counterparts. Although there were a number of studies that reported emissions from various building materials, these studies did not compare commonly used products with those containing high-recycled content. The lack of data on whether or not recycled content products adversely affect indoor air quality prompted the CIWMB to fund this laboratory-based study for the Department of Health Services (DHS), now the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), to test these claims.

Report Conclusions and Results

The November 2003 Report Building Material Emissions Study (BMES), concluded that recycled content products performed about the same as standard products. Both alternative and standard products have the potential to emit chemicals of concern. This study shows that there are low-emitting building materials which are readily available. CalRecycle does not make any claims or generalizations about product types described in the BMES, and the report concludes that "variations within and between product categories suggest that individual products must be tested to determine compliance with the criteria used." The BMES report also emphasizes the important role proper ventilation can play in contributing to good indoor air quality.

Section 01350 Test Results are Specific to Design Parameters

Many products met Section 01350 indoor air quality criteria. A total of 59 products, or 77 percent of the products tested for use in a classroom met the Section 01350 concentration limits. A total of 49 products, or 64 percent of those tested, met the Section 01350 indoor air quality criteria for use in a typical state office. More than half of those products were alternative products.

These results make it clear that just because a product meets Section 01350 concentration limits for a specific design such as a classroom, does not mean that it will meet the criteria for use in another application such as a state office. Section 01350 test results are specific to a particular design due to varying ventilation rates, surface area the product would cover, and room parameters.

Final Report for the Building Material Emissions Study

A Final Draft Report of the Building Material Emissions Study was approved with specific changes during the June 17-18, 2003 CIWMB Board Meeting. Specific changes were finalized in November 2003. These changes included the elimination of Total Volatile Organic Compound (TVOC) criterion from the "Additional IAQ Performance Indicators." An explanation of how the TVOC emission factors were used as a tool to prompt further investigation was added. Since, "TVOCs cannot be used to indicate potential health effects," the comments on Section 01350 were revised to request guidance on the use of TVOC emission factors.

Low-emitting products that contain recycled content and do not negatively impact indoor air quality are included in the results of the Building Material Emissions Study Final Report.

Update Since the Release of the BMES

There are several concurrent efforts under way that demonstrate leadership and innovative partnerships to ensure building materials contribute to healthy indoor environments.

Encourage Manufacturers to Conduct Testing and Provide Results

Calrecycle does not make any claims or generalizations about products that were tested according to Section 01350 for the BMES. Since some of the data in the report is several years old, CalRecycle staff acknowledge that manufacturers may have their products tested at individual labs on a regular basis following the updated Section 01350 indoor air quality testing protocols. There were several limitations to the BMES study; including some product samples were more than a year old, and proper chain of custody protocols were not utilized to ensure products obtained from manufacturers were of the same age. Current versions of Section 01350 provide a protocol for sample receiving and handling.

Low-Emitting Materials for Use in Schools: Many manufacturers have already taken the lead to have their products tested according to Section 01350 at independent laboratories. Manufacturers are encouraged to have their products tested and forward the information to Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) for inclusion in the CHPS High Performance Product Database - a database of products that meet the CHPS Low-Emitting Materials credit as well as other CHPS Credits or by product attribute, e.g. low-emitting, recycled content, etc.

Carpet Industry Developed “Green Label Plus”: The BMES report encouraged the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) to update its Green Label program. CRI proactively took this challenge and worked with the Department of Health Services and CIWMB as representatives of the State of California Sustainable Building Task Force to develop the Green Label Plus program for carpet. The CRI Green Label Plus program is consistent with the Section 01350 indoor air quality testing protocol. All products included in the approved products list for the CRI Green Label Plus carpet testing program are considered compliant with Section 01350 concentration limits.

CRI "Green Label Plus" - Adhesive Testing Program: CRI also initiated an effort to ensure that adhesives recommended for use with carpets are low-emitting. For more information on the "Green Label Plus" - Adhesive Testing Program, visit the CRI website.

Work with Manufacturers to Reformulate Products

Manufacturers with products that exceed Section 01350 indoor air quality concentration limits, are encouraged to evaluate the emissions and reformulate their products so that they are low-emitting. Below is an example of how one company responded to the BMES results on emissions measured from linoleum.

Changes to Linoleum Production: Linoleum is manufactured from jute, linseed oil, wood flour, limestone, and pigments. While it is generally considered to be a rapidly renewable green building material, both linoleum samples exceeded the Section 01350 concentration limits for classrooms and state offices. Although these products did not meet Section 01350 concentration limits for the BMES, similar products met the Section 01350 criteria when they were tested for use in the childcare facility at the East End project. This is likely due to the larger room parameters and ventilation rates.

In an Environmental Building News letter dated April 2004, titled, “Forbo Responds on Indoor Emissions from Linoleum,” the company explains that “Since the subsequent release of the CIWMB study, and in an effort to further improve the indoor air quality (IAQ) performance of our products, Forbo has been aggressively working with reformulations to address the issues raised by the current model used in the 01350 testing.” Subsequently, Forbo’s Marmoleum product has been tested in compliance with Section 01350 concentration limits for use in a classroom.

Modular Office Furniture: When Section 01350 was used on the East End project, the modular office furniture emitted levels of formaldehyde that exceeded the indoor air quality concentration limits. All Steel switched vendors to maintain compliance with Section 01350.

Updated Section 01350 Protocols

One of the BMES report comments was that Section 01350 could be improved. In 2004, CDPH revised Section 01350 and developed the Standard Practice For The Testing of Volatile Organic Emissions from Various Sources Using Small-Scale Environmental Chambers, and in 2010 released the updated Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor sources Using Environmental Chambers, Version 1.1. These testing protocols supersede the indoor air quality portions of Section 01350. For more information or to download the current version of the "Standard Practice" , visit the web page on Section 01350

Tire-Derived Rubber Flooring Study

While most tire-derived products were within the indoor air quality concentration limits (Section 01350) used in the BMES, the report concluded that more testing and refinement of these products was needed before they can be promoted for wide use in small spaces such as classrooms and state offices. The BMES found tire-derived products emit a large number of small peaks of chemicals that could not be identified. These products also emitted chemicals with no established reference exposure health levels. The results of the BMES raised questions about the decay rates or how long certain chemicals would off-gas from these products over time. Lastly, the lack of a chain of custody protocol and the varying age of samples tested needed to be addressed. Although the report concluded that further testing of these products was needed, the study also indicates that tire-derived products can be used in properly ventilated larger spaces such as gymnasiums and multi-purpose rooms.

As a follow-up to the BMES, CalRecycle funded the Tire-Derived Rubber Flooring Chemical Emissions Study: Laboratory Study Report to evaluate the chemical emissions of these and other rubber flooring products. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)  worked with CalRecycle to develop health-based levels of chemical emissions that should not be exceeded to protect public health. OEHHA conducted the first component of this study and developed Indoor Reference Exposure Levels (iRELs) for four chemicals emitted from tire-derived resilient flooring products: Ethylene Glycol mono-N-Butyl ether, N-Methyl-3-pyrrolidinone, Napthalene, and 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene. CDPH was the principal investigator for the second component of this study and performed the additional chemical emissions testing of tire-derived flooring and new rubber products and model chemical concentration for several types of rooms. One of the main goals of this study was to ensure that these products do not negatively contribute to indoor living and working environments. A summary of the results and conclusions can be found at the Tire-Derived Rubber Flooring Chemical Emissions study webpage.

Last updated: September 2, 2014
Green Building
Greg Dick:  (916) 341-6489