Film Screening

The Built Environment, Waste Materials, and the Risks to Human Health of Climate Change

September 25, 2020
3:00pm - 4:00pm
Virtual Event

This conversation between Marilyn Howarth, of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and Franca Trubiano, architect and associate professor at the Weitzman School of Design, speaks to the ubiquitous use of chemically synthesized materials in the built environment and the very real human health risks associated with living with so many polymers that are derived from petroleum, coal, and natural gas. For more than fifty years, a majority of materials that surround us have been chemically engineered from fossil fuels for the purposes of achieving a range of advanced performance capacities. This continued practice is obviously problematic for carbon emissions; it is all the more critical for human health. Throughout the entire lifecycle of polymerized materials, they are dangerous to humans. And yet, the deliberate and orchestrated flooding of the construction market with inexpensive plastics, continues unabated, with very little data being disclosed about the potential health risks associated with adopting such large quantities of nonrenewable, nonrecyclable, and wasteful materials. Indeed, when these materials become part of the waste stream of communities, unintended consequences to human health multiply. Through incineration, landfills, particle leaching and transportation, and water contamination, fence-line communities are most severely impacted by the non-biodegradable nature of nearly all polymers. Case studies local to the city of Philadelphia will be addressed including long term implications of legacy waste from the PES refinery and environment justice issues associated with municipal waste dumps in Eastwick Pa. Important implications for the design community of building with so many non-cradle-to-cradle fossil-based materials, will also be discussed.


Marilyn Howarth

Marilyn V. Howarth, MD, FACOEM

Director of Community Engagement Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Dr. Marilyn Howarth is the Director of Community Engagement for the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. In this capacity, she works with researchers, regulators, legislators and communities to lower environmental risk and improve environmental health. Her work focuses on environmental justice and reduction in environmental health disparities. She has worked in EJ communities in Philadelphia on environmental problems including climate change, lead exposure, air pollution, legacy pollution, water quality, and flooding among others. As a faculty member at Penn, she teaches students at many levels and has taught the Masters in Public Health Course on Environmental and Occupational Health since its inception.   She has provided testimony to numerous City, State and federal agencies and legislative proceedings.   She is a past president of the Pennsylvania Occupational and Environmental Medical Society and a past board member of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Franca Trubiano

Franca Trubiano

Associate Professor Weitzman School of Design

Franca Trubiano (PhD) is Associate Professor at the Weitzman School of Design and a Registered Architect with l’Ordre des Architectes du Québec. Her research on fossil fuels and material health has been funded by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and PURM at Penn (Digest). Her work on energy retrofits has also been funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) where as Principal Investigator and inaugural member of the Consortium for Energy Building Energy Innovation (CBEI), her 3 year project resulted in the creation of Integrated Design Advanced Energy Retrofit Roadmaps of use by all members of the AEC industry. Her edited book Design and Construction of High-Performance Homes: Building Envelopes, Renewable Energies and Integrated Practice (Routledge Press 2012), was awarded the 2015 Sejong Outstanding Scholarly Book Awards, from the Korea Publication Industry Promotion Agency. While at the Georgia Institute of Technology, she was co-recipient of a DOE/NREL Solar Decathlon Grant to design, build, and operate “Icarus Redux”, a net-zero-energy house which competed on the National Mall in Washington DC, in October 2007.