Paul Hagar - Safe Piping Matters
Fifteen years ago, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) published a Red List of building materials that threatened human health and the sustainability of our environment. ILFI flagged high-profile toxins like lead, formaldehyde, heavy metals, and asbestos, but it also identified environmental and health threats from plastics like PVC that many had considered safe.
At the time, I was working for an architectural products manufacturer, and we decided to launch an alternative to the PVC-coated fabrics that dominated a segment of the commercial shadings market. While plastic bottles, containers, and bags have been rightly criticized for the waste they produce and the toxins they introduce to our bodies, working on that PVC-free fabric showed me how much plastic we use in our daily lives. From toys to tools, fashion to furnishings, and paint to pipes, we are surrounded by plastic items we use day after day for years, then discard into landfills, where they disintegrate into microplastic waste.
How do the chemicals in those plastics affect the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe? Not to mention the health of the planet we will leave to future generations?
In 2018, I became aware of research on plastic pipes showing that this product, which now dominates residential and many commercial plumbing applications, represents a direct and constant source of chemical exposure. And it’s not just plastic. Recent lead-pipe crises in Flint, Michigan; Newark, NJ; and thousands of other communities show that safe plumbing is an issue of social justice. Families who take the brunt of poorly designed and maintained piping lack the funds to fix them.
I began leading Safe Piping Matters to encourage architects and community leaders to prioritize specification and construction of safe, healthy, and resilient piping systems in buildings. Together with experts from academia, partners from the plumbing and water industries, and advocates for sustainability, we provide information and insights on ways to reduce toxins in our bodies and enhance the health of our environment.