Events > 2021 International Symposium on Alternatives Assessment

2021 International Symposium on Alternatives Assessment

Oct 28 2021 | 01:00pm - 02:30pm ET

Join Veena Singla of NRDC as she presents research from a joint project with HBN:

Environmental Justice Along Product Life Cycles: Building Insulation Chemical Case Studies and Recommendations for AA

The field of alternatives assessments and the A4 are growing rapidly. This session reviews needs and opportunities for the alternatives assessment community of practice to stay relevant and adaptive to chemical management goals.

Presenting author: Veena Singla, NRDC
Rebecca Stamm, HBN
Ryan Johnson, HBN
Michele Hasson, NRDC


Chemicals and the products they are used in have impacts across the life cycle, from production to disposal. Considering such impacts is key to understanding the health equity and environmental justice implications of alternatives. Yet, there is no standard approach for integrating life cycle considerations in alternatives assessments.
Recent work has focused on incorporating aspects of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) into alternatives assessment. However, life cycle assessment frameworks generally analyze aggregated impacts without regard to the specific geographies or sites that might be impacted. What is missing from this approach is understanding who is impacted across the life cycle to consider equity and environmental justice in selecting an alternative. 

We completed two case studies of chemicals used in building insulation, isocyanates in spray polyurethane foam (SPF) and glass fibers in fiberglass insulation. We analyzed how these chemicals and products may have environmental justice impacts across the life cycle and used the results to offer initial recommendations for alternatives assessment practice to incorporate environmental justice into product life cycle considerations.

We considered the following product life cycle stages in the United States (U.S.) for each chemical and product: chemical manufacture; product manufacture; and disposal. We assessed each stage using established frameworks for safer chemicals and practices- the twelve principles of green chemistry and the hierarchy of controls- as well as conducting an environmental justice analysis using publicly available data and tools from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Our analysis revealed potential environmental justice impacts throughout the product life cycle. For example, facilities manufacturing diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI- a primary chemical used in SPF insulation) collectively report an average of almost 560,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals released to air and water every year in Texas and Louisiana, and MDI manufacturing supply chain facilities are located in proximity to communities that are disproportionately Black or Latina/x/o. 

Considering if a product’s life cycle may disproportionately impact marginalized populations is key to incorporating equity in alternatives assessment decisions. These case studies offer an initial approach which could be further developed with input from impacted communities to integrate in alternatives assessment