According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, the issue of off-gassing is less clear-cut. The EPA recently launched a webpage dedicated to reducing the risk of chemical exposure from spray foam, which states, “The potential for off-gassing of volatile chemicals from spray polyurethane foam is not fully understood and is an area where more research is needed.”
Another issue is reentry time, or in other words, when is it safe to be around spray foam without protective garments after installation? The Centers for Disease Control is currently researching this question, but some manufacturers estimate as little as seven hours while others say as many as 72 hours. There are many factors that can impact curing rates, included the type of spray foam, the humidity, the thickness of the foam, the ambient temperature, the temperature of the chemicals and the technique of the installer.
“The potential for off-gassing of volatile chemicals from spray polyurethane foam is not fully understood and is an area where more research is needed.”
Whatever the conditions might have been, it was unsafe for Keri Rimel’s husband to be in the house at the time of installation without protective gear according to the majority of manufacturing guidelines. “No one told us to be out of the house,” said Keri.
Rimel said the lingering chemical odor caused their building project to come to a halt. She and her husband delayed installing drywall to conduct air quality tests and attempted to ventilate their house. Eventually, they concluded that the foam had to be removed after testing indoor air quality tests found unacceptable levels of of VOCs, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and hexanal. The written report from Argus Environmental, the company that conducted the testing, concluded that the Rimels should not occupy the home until the foam was removed.
But even after the spray foam had been removed, the chemical sensitization Keri and her husband suffer from made it impossible for them to stay in the house. “The fumes permeate everything,” said Rimel. Even tiny amounts of chemicals can trigger their symptoms. After months of being unable to find a satisfactory solution, they sold the property.
“This new source of exposure potentially puts a large population at risk for adverse health effects.”
In the March 2012 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Dr. Yuh-Chin T. Huang and Dr. Wayne Tsuang describe a case similar to the Rimels. A couple in their 30′s returned to their home four hours after spray foam was installed in the attic. They almost immediately began experiencing difficult breathing, coughing, nausea, headaches and watery eyes.
The patients were diagnosed with asthma triggered by isocyanate, a chemical found in Side A and widely cited as the leading cause of occupational asthma. “The use of [spray polyurethane foam] in residential homes likely will continue to increase,” they write. “This new source of exposure potentially puts a large population at risk for adverse health effects.” The couple was eventually forced to leave their home after three months of trying to remediate both their symptoms and the lingering chemical odor.
Since publishing the article, Dr. Huang said he has been contacted by more than a dozen people who developed similar symptoms after being around spray foam. Although they call from around the country and he is not able to see them in person, he said they most arrive at the same conclusion. “They cannot move back to their houses.”
This post was originally published in TreeHugger
Photo Credit: Justin Filip
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