Identifying and Preventing Toxic Substances in Building and Construction Products

Mike Belliveau and Jim Vallette work to prevent toxic substances from entering commerce, including in building and construction, and to replace them with safer alternatives.  They work with industrial hygienists, policymakers, product manufacturers, building owners (from high rises to commercial campuses to affordable housing), the green chemistry community, retail stores, and many others to identify and remove harmful materials from the marketplace.

As Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, based in Portland, Mike Belliveau leads a national effort to protect people from dangerous chemicals.  As Research Director of the Healthy Building Network, Jim Vallette has helped to uncover where these chemicals lie within building and construction materials.

Toxic substances are present throughout in the built environment – from phthalate plasticizers in indoor flooring, to isocyanates and toxic flame retardants in spray foam insulation, to heavy metals in ceramic tile.   Over time, many toxic substances have been phased-out.  Some of their replacements have been regrettable, but others represent a significant victory for human health and the environment.

Mike and Jim will review some of the most recent victories in retail, manufacturer, and government chemical policies. They will describe modern tools vital to IAQ specialists, like the Health Product Declaration and HBN’s CompAIR calculator, that provide unprecedented transparency about what’s inside products.

Using original research and case studies in which they’ve been closely involved, they will reveal  high priority substances to avoid. The presentations will look at house dust data on chemicals and relate those data back to likely sources in the home. And finally, Mike and Jim will provide guidance on how to select products that serve the same functions but do not contain these priority toxic substances.

 About Mike Belliveau and Jim Vallette

Mike Belliveau, Executive Director, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Portland, ME

Mike Belliveau, public policy expert and social entrepreneur, is recognized nationally for promoting environmental public health and green chemistry. For thirty years, he has advanced innovative policies and strategic organizing to prevent harm and develop a sustainable economy. Through Mike’s leadership of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, the state of Maine has set the national pace for protecting human health from unnecessary dangerous chemicals.

Mike co-founded the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, which led the campaign that passed a landmark state law that requires safer chemicals in everyday products. He’s also a co-founder and policy coordinator of SAFER, the State Alliance for Federal Reform, a multi-state coalition working to overhaul chemical policy throughout the United States. At the Strategy Center, Mike launched a model economic development strategy through the Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine, a business-university-nonprofit consortium working to research, develop and commercialize production of bio-based plastics made from Maine potatoes. The manufacturing of this non-toxic, petroleum-free, and bio-compostable material will create good green jobs and boost the regional rural economy.

Previously, Mike led the most comprehensive mercury reduction campaign in the nation for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. In California, he directed Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), which he built into a powerful voice for urban environmental health and justice, and industrial pollution prevention. He was named by California Magazine as one of the people most likely to have a major impact on the state. He was appointed by then-Governor Jerry Brown to the California Hazardous Waste Management Council.

Mike grew up in New England and graduated from MIT with an environmental science degree. He lives with his family on Pushaw Lake in Maine on the edge of l’Acadie, the homeland to ten generations of his Acadian ancestors. When he’s not on the road, Mike loves to paddle or ski from his back door, or wander round the garden.

Jim ValletteResearch Director for the Healthy Building Network, works to understand and explain industry’s impacts on people and the planet. He has tracked materials like toxic waste, illegally-harvested timber and fish, and ozone-depleting chemicals, around the world. His findings have supported major global policy developments like the Basel Convention ban on toxic waste trade and national and international finance bans on overseas fossil fuel extraction. Over the past decade, Jim has helped to develop the Healthy Building Network’s groundbreaking research on how building materials are made, and what the impacts are on building occupants, construction workers, fenceline communities, and the global environment.  He lives and works on Mt. Desert Island, where he also went to high school.