Looking Up: Discovering What's Over Our Heads

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Looking Up: Discovering What's Over Our Heads

by Jim Vallette, Senior Researcher, Healthy Building Network
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Monday, June 21, 2010 - 11:00am



Anyone who finds themselves in a hospital, as a visitor or patient, has plenty of idle time sitting or reclining, looking around – as “islandtime” writes on a poetry discussion board - “thinking about the patient, where the ceiling tiles came from, how hospital sounds can mimic outdoor sounds, the way the techs and nurses are all dressed the same.”  

For those who wonder about, and those who specify, ceiling tiles, the Pharos Project is exploring “where the ceiling tiles came from.”  This week, our Building Product Library published the first diverse set of ceiling tile evaluations.

Our research into acoustical ceiling tiles indicates a very complex category.  The contents and additives in ceiling tiles vary greatly.  The primary core materials for acoustical ceiling tiles are mineral wool, fiberglass, or gypsum.  Specialty tiles and panels may be made of wood, metal, recycled glass, and even jute.  Facing materials range from paper to vinyl to antimicrobial paints.  Within each type of tile, the amount of recycled and renewable content differs significantly from product to product.

Moreover, we have identified issues that may concern Pharos users: the widespread use of biocides, flame retardants, and formaldehyde-based binders, some of which are not disclosed in company literature.  We have found carcinogenic flame retardants and biocides being released from ceiling tile plants – with no corresponding information about these chemicals on manufacturers’ websites. 

Pharos Project subscribers will find several ceiling tiles in the system that use urea phenol formaldehyde and biocides.  Some use a lot of recycled material.  You will find further information about these and other ingredients in the Chemical and Material Library section of Pharos.  We will also detail these and other concerns – as well as the positive attributes – of products in upcoming Signal blogs.

Many of our users, who specify millions of square feet of health care and other facilities per year, understand the importance of any decision on specifying ceiling tiles.   Ceilings represent one of the largest surface areas in any interior.  Suspended ceiling tiles and panels lie at the intersection of building ventilation systems and occupied space.   They are receptors and sources of Volatile Organic Compounds and other toxicants.

Our research and evaluations of ceiling tiles should help users identify which panels use and emit the fewest toxicants and incorporate the most renewable materials. Then, when patients and visitors are staring up at some hospital room ceiling, the view will be healthy.