Op-Ed

Polystyrene Chemicals Widespread

Thanks so much for your efforts in addressing the issue of flame-retardants in foam insulation (see EBN Aug. 2009). Over the past 10 years we have tested hundreds of products and homes for semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in order to trouble shoot contaminants in homes as well as specify healthier materials for new construction and remodeling.

Many of these compounds lie outside of the range of normal VOC testing and certification, and are evident only through expanded testing. These include biocides, pyrethroids and permethrins, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), as well as the subject of your article: brominated, chlorinated, and other flame-retardants. These substances all have high boiling points, so instead of volatilizing and dissipating over time, as VOCs do, they release from materials and attach to dust. The levels of these chemicals increase over time as the source materials age and break down.

Invariably when we test houses where foam insulation has been used, we find high concentrations of flame-retardants. This includes spray-foam sealants and spray-foam insulation, used in the effort to improve air tightness in structures; their residues, including the chlorinated flame retardant tris(chloropropyl) phosphate (TCPP), are found throughout structures in the dust. Although we have also found that hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) from polystyrene styrene insulation is usually not present in our dust samples, we have found it in dust samples when polystyrene is installed under radiant heated floors. In some types of polystyrene foam insulation we have also found polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). We need to look seriously at the contents in our products and the health effects related to our good green intentions.

Richard Scarborough, Environmental Inspector, CIAQP, CIECMary Cordaro, Certified Bau-Biologist, Healthy Building ConsultantMarilee Nelson, Certified Bau-Biologist, Healthy Building Consultant

Published September 25, 2009

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Comments

October 1, 2009 - 12:37 pm

I'm puzzled as to how a flame retardant could migrate into occupied space from foam insulation located under a slab on grade floor. Can anyone eleucidate?

PS Thanks for the opportunity to use that great word.

Mike O'Brien