Polystyrene's Track Record
Your recent article “Polystyrene Insulation: Does It Belong in a Green Building?” (see
EBNThe article reports that very small amounts of the flame retardant HBCD are used in polystyrene foam insulation. But ) misleads readers on several important facts regarding polystyrene foam insulation. Particularly troublesome was the absence of prevailing scientific viewpoints on the safety and environmental attributes of these products.
EBN fails to inform readers that HBCD is retained in the insulation’s polymer matrix throughout the service life of the product and is, therefore, highly unlikely to cause significant environmental or consumer exposure. A recent risk assessment by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemi) conducted on behalf of the European Union (EU) reports that 86% of HBCD emissions to the environment are related to its use in other products—not polystyrene foam insulation. This is particularly important as the majority of studies cited by
EBN address the chemical HBCD without considering its use in specific products or the means by which specific products can release HBCD into the environment.
Your description of how HBCD may fare under REACH also failed to note that HBCD could in fact be “authorized” for continued use in polystyrene foam insulation, especially considering the low likelihood of exposure from this application and the significant energy-efficiency benefits provided. In any event, until the assessment process is complete, it is premature and patently unfair to advise against the use of a product that uses, but may not result in meaningful exposure to, a particular chemical.
Although the article implies otherwise, HBCD is in fact not currently classified as a POP, and polystyrene foam insulation meets the IBC’s and IRC’s class A designation for flame spread and smoke development.
Your readers should know that polystyrene foam insulation can make a significant contribution to the energy efficiency of homes and buildings, helping to minimize the burning of fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with heating and cooling. Polystyrene foam insulation is chemically resistant, non-fibrous and non-irritating, and does not require the use of binders. Polystyrene foam insulation remains an outstanding choice for many building applications, and it most definitely and appropriately belongs in green buildings.
Steve Russell, Vice President, Plastics, American Chemistry Council
We regret the error about HBCD being classified as a persistent organic pollutant (POP). As noted in the correction last month, HBCD is currently under review for POP classification, but that process is not complete.
Published September 25, 2009