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Safer Foam Insulation – Reducing Dangerous Flame Retardants

by / Monday, 26 November 2012 / Published in Environmental Testing, Green Building Consulting
safer foam insulation

Safer Foam Insulation

Flame Retardants Doing More Harm than Good?

Safer foam insulation is on its way to becoming a reality in the US construction industry. Momentum for eliminating unnecessary flame retardants from buildings is growing exponentially. The fire safety benefit isn’t adding up to the known hazards associated with halogenated flame retardants. Leading the charge are fire scientists, toxicologists, and firefighters – each with their own stake and piece of the story.

“Flame Retardants In Building Insulation: A Case for Reevaluating Building Codes,” a recent article (Volume 40, Issue 6, 2012) in the journal Building Research & Information, reveals the fundamental argument against using additional halogenated flame retardants in materials already protected by fireproofing. This article is available free for a limited time.

The authors lay out their case in plain English: there is no significant benefit to added flame retardants when behind existing firewalls (gypsum board, concrete slab, etc.), current testing methods are inadequate for testing flame spread in foam, and there are many significant negative impacts from using the known halogenated toxins.

This is the published abstract from the journal article on safer foam insulation:

“US building codes balance the consideration of hazards to public safety, health and general welfare. Current codes require foam plastic insulation materials to have both protection by a thermal barrier and compliance with Steiner Tunnel test requirements. The Steiner Tunnel test is met by adding flame-retardant chemicals to the foam. Studies demonstrate that the Steiner Tunnel test does not give reliable fire safety results for foam plastic insulations. Foams that meet the Steiner Tunnel test still pose a fire hazard if used without a code-mandated thermal barrier. Insulations protected by a thermal barrier are fire safe and the use of flame retardants does not provide any additional benefit. Evidence is examined of the health and ecological impacts from the added flame-retardant chemicals. Changing the building codes could prevent health and environmental harm from the toxicity of these substances without a reduction in fire safety. Plastic foam insulations that are protected by a thermal barrier should be exempted from the Steiner Tunnel test and the need to use flame retardants. This change would align US codes with code regulations in Sweden and Norway and ensure the fire safety as well as improve health and environmental impacts.”

Science Daily just ran a story about the article, “Health and Environmental Risk in Flame Retardants in Building Insulation.” They give a little more background on the authors and also include some links to other related stories on safer foam insulation.

The authors have formulated a Code Change Resolution that I have signed and fully support. If you have a moment, and want to help support healthy buildings through safer foam insulation, please sign the Code Change Resolution – Safer Insulation Solution.

Hats off to the Green Science Policy Institute and the authors of this article! Thank you – Vytenis Babrauskas, Donal Lucas, David Eisenberg, Veena Singla, Michel Dedeo and Arlene Blum – for making safer foam insulation a reality in the US!

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