Written by Margaret Badore
This article is the first of a series examining the risks associated with spray polyurethane foam.
When Keri Rimel’s husband first came down with respiratory symptoms, he wasn’t sure what caused them. He had a sore throat, congested sinuses and runny eyes.g
The day before, he had visited the construction site of their new home, where a contractor was installing spray polyurethane foam insulation. He and the architect were in the same room as the installer. “He didn’t think anything of it,” said Keri Rimel.
Their house in Austin, Texas, was a new build. They had chosen Demilec’s Sealection 500 spray foam as the only insulation, and it filled every exterior wall cavity of the structure and the roof. Whenever he went back into the house, his symptoms would return.
“As soon as I went into the house, the smell would be overwhelming and my throat would clog up.”
Keri experienced symptoms herself when she visited the house. “As soon as I went into the house, the smell would be overwhelming and my throat would clog up,” she said. “I would get chest pain on the left side of my chest. That always happened.”
Spray foam is often touted as a green building material because of its high insulation value and tight seal, which can make homes more energy efficient. The American Resource and Recovery Act of 2009 promoted spray foam as a source of green jobs that provides energy efficiency. According to the industry group Spray Foam Coalition, sales increased 29 percent from the first half of 2010 to the first half of 2012. Another industry report predicts spray foam sales to increase by 15 percent annually.
Yet as more homes and buildings are insulated with spray foam, a growing number of consumer advocates and green builders are concerned about the growing use of a product made from a number of toxic components. At the same time, homeowners around the U.S. are reporting serious health issues following the installation of spray foam or moving into a new home insulated with spray foam.
Spray foam insulation is produced during installation by mixing two liquid chemical components, referred to as “Side A” and “Side B.” The liquid is then applied to the wall or ceiling with a spray gun, where it reacts and expands. Although there are toxicants in both Side A and Side B and installers are instructed to wear full body haz-mat suits, spray foam manufacturers say the final “cured” product is inert.
“The products are safe, There are no issues. The products become inert. There’s no long term effect and we have over 25 plus years of history in this marketplace.”
“We do standard [Volatile Organic Compound] analysis on all of the products that go to market,” said Robert Naini, the chief operating officer of Demilec, one of the largest manufactures of spray foam. “It’s lab testing done as part of our procedures.” Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals with negative health effects that off-gas from a variety of solid or liquid products. Naini said that all of their products meet several established guidelines for low-emissions products, including LEED standards, standards set by the California Department of Public Health, and GreenGuard certification.
“The products are safe,” said Naini. “There’s no issues. The products become inert. There’s no long term effect and we have over 25 plus years of history in this marketplace.”
Photo Credit: Justin Filip
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