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Healthier Building Materials and Human Health

Delve into the chemicals used in building materials, their impacts on human health, and what makes a healthier material.

A building with sustainable wood and building materials with 5 people waking along the side with sunset at the background.
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
  • 100% online

    How it works
  • Included in an ExpertTrack

    Course 1 of 3
  • Get full ExpertTrack access

    $39/monthFind out more

Understand the significance of materials and health in the built environment

On this three-week course, you’ll gain insight into how the materials we use for building impacts our health and the environment.

You’ll explore the relationship between living organisms and our surroundings as you unpack the harmful effects that chemicals have. With this knowledge, you’ll better understand the communities and populations that are most vulnerable.

By the end of the course, you’ll be able to implement these teachings into your design and advocate for creating a healthier built environment.

Explore the routes of chemical exposure

As you investigate different industrial chemicals, you’ll gain an understanding of how we get exposed to them and how chemicals enter the body.

Unpacking the classes and types of chemicals that affect human health, you’ll learn what happens when chemicals get inside our body and the types of chemicals that might be affecting you.

With this knowledge, you’ll learn how to transform building products and make a change to healthier materials.

Explore environmental health and vulnerable populations

As you learn how to make positive changes, you’ll unpack the physical, environmental, and socio-economic factors that make change more challenging for some populations.

You’ll research the vulnerable populations and systemic injustice related to toxicity and environmental health.

Delve into life cycle and circular design solutions

You’ll explore the life cycles of materials to understand how chemicals might persist.

Finally, you’ll look at designing for circularity and product optimisation, such as the Cradle to Cradle certified approach.

Guided by the experts at Parsons School of Design’s Healthy Materials Lab, you’ll finish the course with an understanding of the pathways to healthier environments.


  • Week 1

    The Significance of Materials and Health

    • Welcome to the Course!

      Welcome to Week 1! It's time to find out what you'll learn about this week. You'll also have the chance to meet your instructors and introduce yourself to your fellow learners.

    • How Industrial Chemicals Impact Human Health

      Now, let's take a look at why we should care. We'll learn about how what we make affects people's health, and why materials are so significant to health.

    • Classes of Chemicals that Impact Human Health

      We'll do a quick introduction to the classes of chemicals of concern (we'll get into this further in Course 2 of this Expert Track). You'll learn a bit about the types of chemicals that affect human health, focusing on lead.

    • Transforming Building Products

      Change is necessary. We'll look at why that is, and what you can do. We'll think about less toxic materials, and identify some of the challenges to making change.

    • Week 1 Wrap-Up

      Now that we're at the end of Week 1, let's take a moment to reflect on what you've learned and look ahead to Week 2.

  • Week 2

    Environmental Health and Vulnerable Populations

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Welcome to Week 2! Let's hear a little more about what you can expect to learn this week.

    • How Chemicals Enter the Body

      Let's learn about how chemicals enter the body. We'll look at pathways of exposure and what happens when chemicals enter our bodies.

    • Vulnerable Populations and Systemic Injustice

      Now that we know how chemicals enter our bodies and why we should care, let's learn a bit more about who is most affected. We'll identify vulnerable populations, and look at how they're impacted.

    • Confronting Risk

      In order to confront risk, we need to contextualize it. We’ll look at some factors that impact risk. Then we’ll consider some strategies to mitigate risks.

    • Week 2 Wrap-Up

      Let's take a moment to reflect on what you have learned in Week 2 and look forward to what you can expect in Week 3.

  • Week 3

    Life Cycle of Materials

    • Welcome to Week 3!

      Welcome to Week 3! Let's hear a little more about what you can expect to learn this week.

    • Toxicity and Exposure in Indoor Environments

      Let's take a look at toxicity and exposure in indoor environments. We'll see how material composition affects exposure and consider why indoor chemical exposure is so important to study by evaluating what's in the air.

    • Designing for Circularity

      Once you understand why we need to know what’s in the air, we can design for health. Let’s look at how we can optimize materials by considering the full life cycle, including the use phase.

    • Pathways to Healthier Environments

      Now, let's consider how to take action. We'll look at how to avoid hazards. You'll also receive some guidance from the experts.

    • Week 3 Wrap-Up

      We've come to the end of Week 3, and of this course! Let's reflect on what you have learned. You'll have a chance to take a quiz to reinforce your learning. We'll also look ahead to the next course of this Expert Track.

Prove you're job ready

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  • Learn the latest in your chosen industry or subject.
  • Complete each course and pass assessments.
  • Receive certificates validated by the educating organisation.
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  • Make your career dreams a reality.

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe the relationship between human health, building materials, chemical toxicity, and environmental exposure
  • Identify how chemicals get into our bodies and how environmental toxics disproportionately impact vulnerable populations
  • Investigate how environmental toxics disproportionately impact vulnerable populations
  • Apply strategies to address the issues around materials and health in design practices

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in health and sustainability in relation to building.

It provides an introduction to the topic, but is applicable to anyone who works in the industry, or is simply passionate about the health of populations and the environment.

Who will you learn with?

I am co-Director of Parsons Healthy Materials Lab in New York. See our work at
healthymaterialslab.org and keep in touch at https://healthymaterialslab.org/email-signup

Catherine, has led educational programming at Parsons Healthy Materials Lab since 2015. She also teaches at Columbia GSAPP and The New School.

Who developed the course?

Parsons School of Design

For more than a century, Parsons School of Design has been inspired by the transformative potential of design. Today, the school’s groundbreaking academic programs carry forward that mission, making Parsons the number one design school in the U.S. and among the top three globally. At the heart of a comprehensive university — The New School — Parsons draws on a range of academic fields to deliver a uniquely interdisciplinary education enriched by the resources of its home in New York City

About this ExpertTrack

Understand how building materials impact human health as you explore healthier materials and their use in sustainable building.

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  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
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