Select Page

Thoughts from the Chair: Spring 2024

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Blog Post, Education, Thoughts from the Chair

During the 1960s and 70s, the interrelationship of humans and our environment was coming into focus. We had churned out enormous quantities of industrial chemicals over the previous half-century and were starting to realize the unintended and ill-considered outcomes of this “progress.” Rachel Carson, who died 60 years ago this year, offered this choice in Silent Spring:

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth super-highway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one “less traveled by” – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.

With her words and the persistence of many other forward thinkers, great progress was made regulating the most blatant pollution – that was easily made obvious to everyone through poor air quality, visible blight, dying animals, birds, and people, and rivers that caught fire. Environmental bills passed Congress with overwhelming, bipartisan majorities during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations (Silent Spring Revolution, Douglas Brinkley).

Pushback soon followed, to the point that today very few chemicals are regulated and the environmental and human health impacts of most are poorly understood. Our air, land, and water may be visibly and sensibly less obviously polluted unless we’re unfortunate enough to live too close to the wrong industrial facility, accident, or extreme weather event; but chemicals known to cause disease, wreak havoc on our biological systems, or degrade our environment remain ubiquitous throughout our lives.

Carson’s superpower was the ability to explain the complex relationships between our chemicals and our health. Her thought above continues:

…we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the council of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.

In essence, the HPD is about this “right to know.” We recognize the need to get hazardous chemicals out of our trains, our communities, and our bodies for good. We have spent years collecting data about building products to learn what is safe versus hazardous in the built environment. We continue to develop tools and harmonize an ecosystem of like-minded organizations to better understand the consequences of our product choices throughout their lifecycle. We are dedicated to helping manufacturers, designers, contractors, and owners choose the fork in the road that leads away from harm and towards a healthy, just, and thriving future. Now more than ever before, we have the tools to make this choice accessible to every decision-maker.