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EPA Targets Home Insulation Chemical

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has detailed how it will address the potential health risks of certain compounds – chemicals which may pose a threat to homeowners taking on energy efficiency projects.

Americans may come into potentially harmful contact with methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) or related compounds when sealing concrete, finishing floors or using spray foam insulation, the EPA said.

In action plans released this week, the EPA said is considering a range of options under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Potential actions include restricting access to or enacting an outright ban on the products.

Diisocyanates are used to make polyurethane polymers. Most polyurethane products, such as foam mattresses or bowling balls, are fully reacted or “cured,” and are not of concern to human health, the EPA says. Some products, however, such as adhesives, coatings, and spray foam, continue to react while in use, and may contain “uncured” diisocyanates to which people may be exposed, according to the agency.

The chemicals are known to cause severe skin and breathing responses in workers who have been repeatedly exposed to them. Diisocyanates have been documented as a leading cause of work-related asthma, and in severe cases, fatal reactions have occurred. To protect worker health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates workplace exposures through permissible exposure limits.

In contrast to the availability of exposure data for professionals who work with diisocyanates, there is very limited information available about the use and exposure patterns of consumers who may be exposed to products containing uncured MDI and TDI. The EPA plans to consider the potential risks from consumer exposure to these chemicals.

“There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “The EPA is working to protect the health of the American people and the environment.”

“We look forward to a productive exchange with EPA on the action plans,” Kathryn St. John, spokesperson for chemical manufacturers’ association the American Chemistry Council (ACC), told Chemical & Engineering News,  “Working with the EPA over many months, we have enhanced product stewardship programs to further improve safe use of spray polyurethane foam.”

The new action plans can be viewed here.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Buie

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5 thoughts on “EPA Targets Home Insulation Chemical

  1. Wow, I didn’t know this; thankfully, here in the UK we use mineral fibre for home insulation, or least in the domestic market, luckily there are no fumes given off with this.

    Julian is right though, insulating is certainly one the best ways to reduce the heating bills, it may be slightly cheaper here due to our insulation grants scheme, but even if grants are not available it is still worth the investment.

  2. I am glad we only install fiberglass insulation. We have no problems with these types of chemicals and have much less dust than the competing products. There is also many types of formaldehyde free insulation which isn’t really a problem but need to be able to show builders and owners.

  3. The most natural and sustainable insulation (by Greentechforum) is sheep wool insulation, which is now available as a rigid board, which replaces dry wall covering.

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