ERA Challenges LBNL Study about White Roofs

The Bethesda, Md.-based EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) is challenging a study released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif., which cites white roofs as the most “cost-effective” roofing option over a 50-year time span. The study, published in the March 2014 issue of Energy and Buildings, also calls for the phase-out of black roofs.

“Our members make both black and white roofing membranes. We strongly oppose any recommendation that irresponsibly promotes the use of one of our products over another based on faulty science. We question the validity of this study since it is based on a sample size of only 22 roofs, and we are challenging the conclusions that the authors draw from the data,” says Ellen Thorp, ERA’s associate executive director. “Due to the complexity of roof and building science, prescriptive requirements that limit design choices are not in the best interests of architects, design professionals or building owners.”

To help provide clarity regarding roofing-system choice and refute some errors in the study, ERA convened a panel of experts to review the LBNL science and its conclusions. A complete analysis can be found on the ERA website.

Overall, the LBNL study was marked by “a systematic failure to understand that roofs are systems, not a single component,” says Thomas W. Hutchinson, AIA, FRCI, RRC, principal of Hutchinson Design Group Ltd., Barrington, Ill., an internationally recognized expert on roof system design and a Roofing editorial advisor. “Additionally, the study completely ignored
ballasted EPDM systems that, in other studies, have proven to be the roof system that provides the greatest service life and energy savings. To suggest that a comparatively ‘new’ roofing material will have a longer service life than EPDM, a material proven to last over 30 years, is naïve.”

“Our members—Firestone Building Products, Carlisle SynTec Systems and Johns Manville—have a vested interest in providing accurate information to our customers,” Thorp adds. “Their knowledge is based on marketing, installing and maintaining thousands of roofing systems. We hope that architects, specifiers and roofing consultants will continue to rely on their field-based knowledge about the comparative costs and effectiveness of roofing systems, rather than on flawed science based on flimsy and biased data.”

Benjamin Mandel, a research assistant in the Heat Island Group at LBNL and an author of the LBNL study, recently responded to ERA’s remarks on Today’s Facility Manager’s website.
Read Mandel’s reaction at bit.ly/1hcD0HR.

ERA Recommends EPA Base Procurement Guidelines on Assessed Risk

The EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) is recommending that the EPA base proposed environmental performance guidelines on “assessed risk” of referenced chemicals, rather than on the concept of “intrinsic hazard”. In comments to the EPA on its proposed Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards & Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement, ERA stated, “The concept of “intrinsic hazard” as used in the draft neglects the importance of overall risk assessment as the best approach to identifying potential and actual environmental or human health danger of a product. Taken as a whole, the potential for product exclusion within broad hazard-based protocols may be significant for many segments of the building material industry.”

The ERA comments cite a broad range of widely used building products that could be excluded from the marketplace if the proposed guidelines are implemented.

“We applaud the EPA for incorporating the expertise of impacted industries as they establish environmental standards,” said Ellen Thorp, Associate Executive Director, EPDM Roofing Association. “It’s vitally important that we review all of the consequences – intended and unintended – of these proposed guidelines. Roofing professionals who have extensive field experience with these products can provide uniquely valuable input.”

ERA further praised the EPA for incorporating “consideration of all viewpoints, the requirement for timely response to objections, the opportunity for appeal, and transparency in the development and communication process” in the draft guidelines. ERA underscored that these principles need to be emphasized in green standards development: “Only by doing so can we move green construction from the boutique privilege of a few to the mainstream of the built environment.”

The complete text of ERA’s comments on the Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards & Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement is below.

ERA Comments Submitted to the EPA on April 24, 2014

The EPDM Roofing Association is the national trade association that represents EPDM roof membrane manufacturers and suppliers to the industry. ERA advances the use of sustainable EPDM roofing systems, while also providing technical and research support to the public and construction industry.

ERA appreciates and supports the development of forward looking standards grounded in the key principles of modern consensus processes. Given the importance of the burgeoning number of proposed green and/or healthy building guidelines and standards, the principles outlined in the EPA draft go a long way to ensuring progress that can be measurable and achievable by the nation’s building industry. The consideration of all viewpoints, the requirement for timely response to objections, the opportunity for appeal, and transparency in the development and communication process, are all key elements of the Draft Guidelines. Without a doubt, these principles need to be emphasized in green standards development, where true consensus processes have too often been ignored or compromised. Only by doing so can we move green construction from the boutique privilege of a few to the mainstream of the built environment.

The only area of concern we wish to comment on involves the concept of “intrinsic hazard” as described in the Section II, # 13, and Footnote 9 of the draft. The concept of “intrinsic hazard” as used in the draft neglects the importance of overall risk assessment as the best approach to identifying potential and actual environmental or human health danger of a product.

Taken as a whole, the potential for product exclusion within broad hazard-based protocols may be significant for many segments of the building material industry. As an example, Healthy Product Declarations (HPDs) for many building envelope products will likely include the disclosure of at least one ingredient alleged to be hazardous by one or more of the “authoritative” lists. The following is a listing of a number of these building envelope products, the alleged hazardous materials they may contain, and the reference list from which the alleged hazard is identified.
• Thermoplastic Roofing Membranes: Titanium Dioxide (California Prop 65)
• Rubber Roofing Membranes: Carbon Black (California Prop 65)
• Asphaltic Roofing and Waterproofing Products: Bitumen (California Prop 65)
• “Cool” (Reflective) Roof Coatings: Titanium Dioxide (California Prop 65)
• Fiber Insulation: Wood Dust (California Prop 65)
• Foam Insulation: Halogenated Fire Retardants (San Antonio Protocol)

This listing helps illustrate our serious concern about possible misuse of standards that are not focused on risk but rather the existence of hazard to make a use or not use decision. Knowledgeable chemists realize that many of these ingredients, like TiO2, wood dust or carbon black in roofing materials will likely never affect building occupants. But how will building designers respond to HPDs or similar hazard-based protocols that contain hazard warnings about cool roof coatings, wood, carbon black, and the like? They will now be possession of information stating the products they plan to specify contain ingredients potentially hazardous to the health of the clients. In short, if HPDs or similar protocols flag every building product as hazardous, their relevancy and usefulness will be lost.

As a result, we recommend that Section II, #13 be revised as follows:
“Product environmental criteria focus on the assessed risks of chemicals, and require safer substitutes to the extent possible, considering existing data and availability of functional alternatives.9”

In addition, we recommend that Footnote 9 also be revised to support risk assessment rather than hazard identification: “A risk-based approach, grounded in Green Chemistry principles, can reduce the use of hazardous substances, and lower overall risk to people and the environment. Key to this focus is an understanding of the actual risks of chemicals in terms of effect levels and exposure pathways, as well as the availability of safer alternatives.”

We thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments, and we look forward to the formal release of these guidelines.