When I have previously speculated as to green building lawsuits, I never imagined that an industrial hygienist would play a significant role.

Industrial hygienists are scientists and engineers who study health and safety of people in the workplace and the community. Linda Kincaid is an industrial hygienist in California. She is also a citizen-reporter for the San Jose Environmental Health Examiner. Turns out, Kincaid has recently been testing Los Altos homes for formaldehyde. Kincaid alleges that Los Altos homes are emitting more formaldehyde and that a green building rating requirement may be the culprit:

[According to Kincaid], of homes with more than 100 ppb formaldehyde, nine out of eleven were in Los Altos. Of homes with more than 120 ppb formaldehyde, three out of four were in Los Altos. Over half of the homes tested in Los Altos had more formaldehyde than the 77 ppb average in the Katrina FEMA trailers.

Initially, we could not understand why homes in Los Altos were different from homes in nearby communities. Construction practices and construction materials should be similar throughout the county. The difference, [according to Kincaid,] was a green building ordinance passed by the City of Los Altos in late 2007. Beginning in January 2008, all new homes in Los Altos were required meet the criteria for GreenPoint Rated.

Kincaid’s accusation is a big one. She is alleging that homes that are certified under the GreenPoint Rated system, which is mandated by the City of Los Altos, have higher levels of formaldehyde.

Kincaid’s first article of September 8 drew a swift response. The Formaldehyde Council, Inc. published a scathing critique of Kincaid’s analysis, as did Build it Green, publishers of the GreenPoint Rated certification system. From the Build it Green website:

Build It Green found the information in the articles quite inflammatory and simplistic, with an elementary perspective on the realities of any green building rating system and the US construction marketplace. Ms. Kincaid also severely misrepresents the standards and intent of California’s regulatory safeguards in place to help protect homeowners from actual risks of formaldehyde offgassing. Ms. Kincaid’s testing methodology is highly questionable, her conclusions overly simplistic and spurious. Her articles do the opposite of supporting the need for good comprehensive information regarding the realistic dynamics occurring in today’s homes.

There is, of course, more to the story, which we will discuss on Friday. If residents were hypothetically getting sick from formaldehyde in green certified homes, could a green building rating system be responsible? Could a city or county, which mandated the green building certification, be responsible? Architects and contractors who built the homes also have to be concerned about liability implications.

What is your take?

Related Links: 

What is an Industrial Hygienist?  (AIHA)

Elevated formaldehyde in new Los Altos Homes (Examiner)

FCI Reponds to Linda Kincaid Articles (FCI Blog)

Build It Green Responds to Recent Articles by Linda Kincaid (Build It Green)

Photo:  timlovesbrian