CalGreen and VOC’s – A Lawsuit Waiting to Happen
CalGreen and VOC’s are a lawsuit waiting to happen. The codes are in place, the ability to accurately measure is available, and the potential health-related issues are well documented.
The CalGreen Code, under the heading of Pollutant Control, defines the legal limits for volatile organic compounds. These compounds include carpet, plywood, paints, sealants, adhesives, caulks, coatings, composite wood products and finish flooring materials.
In many aspects of consumer or corporate law, an “injury in fact” needs to be demonstrated in order to file a successful claim. You need to have a demonstrated physical injury, or a potential for injury, to show standing to sue. The extent of this negligence may include health risks to the occupants, or an extreme case, un-livable conditions in a newly completed home.
The Legal Standing of CalGreen
To sue a builder or developer, three legal conditions must be met.
Injury-in-fact: The plaintiff must have suffered or imminently will suffer injury — an invasion of a legally protected interest that is both concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent. The injury can be either economic, non-economic or both.
Causation: There must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, so that the injury is fairly traceable to the action of the defendant.
Redressability: It must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that a favorable court decision will redress the injury.
The installation of non-approved materials can be enough to demonstrate negligence on the part of the builder. Reports show VOC’s in buildings can lead to respiratory disease, allergies, and exacerbation of asthma symptoms. Further, some VOC’s are carcinogens as with formaldehyde.
The combination of defined code limits for materials, combined with the known long-term health effects, can provide legal standing for a lawsuit against the builder.
Showing negligence through the measurement of indoor air quality may be difficult. However, what is easy is showing negligence by allowing a non-code conforming material be installed in a home or office. If that non-code conforming material is a carcinogen or can cause long term health effects the plaintiff has a right to redress. This redress may include removal of all VOC materials that exceed the code limits.
The cost to remove plywood, flooring, adhesives, etc, on a newly completed building can run in to the tens of thousands of dollars. Costs may not only include the material replacement cost but also temporary housing for loss of use.
VOC Health Issues
The Environmental Protection Agency notes the following health effects of volatile organic compounds:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, they suspect or know some to cause cancer in humans.
People with respiratory problems such as asthma, young children, the elderly and people with heightened sensitivity to chemicals may be more susceptible to irritation and illness from VOCs.
Symptoms of excessive VOC exposure include the following:
- Headaches, loss of coordination, damage to liver
- Central nervous system injury
- Conjunctival irritation
- Visual disorders and memory impairment
- Nose and throat irritation
- Respiratory tract irritation and asthma
CalGreen Code Enforcement – It Protects Everyone
The solution to VOC health and liability risks in new homes and buildings is simple.
The simple solution for designers, builders and homeowners is the enforcement of the CalGreen Code. The code sets clear VOC limits for the various building materials.
The simple solution for architects is to clearly specify materials that meet the CalGreen Code criteria.
The simple solution for general contractors is to ensure the products they, and their sub-contractors, are purchasing are VOC compliant. Care needs to be exercised when substituting specified materials to ensure the VOC limits are within the specifications.
Lastly, the solution for new homeowners is to request the general contractor provide the CalGreen code-required documentation of the installed materials. The code requires the contractor to maintain records of all VOC containing materials, and verification that the materials are within the code limits.
When design and construction professionals follow the code, VOC’s related health issues cannot occur. However, when these professionals choose to ignore this section of the code, VOC’s become a lawsuit waiting to happen.
CalGreen Code Limits for Adhesives
CalGreen Code Limits for Sealants
CalGreen Code Limits for Coatings
For more information on Volatile Organic Compounds:
California Department of Public Health on VOC’s:
California Collaborative for High Performance Schools Products Database:
California Environmental Protection Agency – Reducing Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products:
For more information on the CalGreen Checklist see our informative article:
At CalGreen Energy Services we are specialists in the CalGreen Code. CalGreen is our only business. If you have a CalGreen question please feel free to give us a call. We are happy to share our knowledge.
Call us today and let us show you how we can help with your project.
Gary Welch has over 35 years experience in the field of sustainable building design. He is the CEO of CalGreen Energy Services. Gary is an ICC Certified CalGreen Special Inspector and Plans Examiner.