Op-Ed

Watch for Other Toxics

Spray polyurethane foam is one alternative to polystyrene insulation, but it is not without health concerns.

Photo: BASF Polyurethane Foam Enterprises
We were excited to read the piece on HBCD in polystyrene and we thank you for taking a stand against its use in construction (see EBN Aug. 2009). However, we would encourage

EBN to take a deeper look at alternative insulation materials, particularly relating to their toxicity and life-cycle impacts.

Research by the Green Science Policy Institute has found that two of your recommendations—polyurethane (both spray and rigid) and polyisocyanurate—often contain the halogenated flame retardant TCPP or other halogenated flame retardants. Although TCPP likely causes less harm than HBCD, it is structurally similar to three chemical compounds that have been identified as causing cancer. Chemicals used to manufacture polyurethane and polyisocyanurate have been found to be carcinogenic or have other adverse health effects. Finally, in the event of a fire, both burn to create hydrogen cyanide and other toxic gases.

EBN recommended these materials as alternatives without also calling attention to their toxicity.

Our research with Alex Madonik of the Green Science Policy Institute has uncovered some promising substitutes for rigid plastic insulations, (some noted by

EBN) including mineral wool, Foamglas, perlite, Aerogel, Greensulate, carbon foam, cork, and Agriboard (as structural insulated panels).

There are health and environmental issues associated with most building materials. As we work to create zero-energy buildings, serious consideration needs to be given to the materials we choose to achieve these goals.

EBN’s article on HBCD and polystyrene is a great first step.

Cate Leger, Architect,

Leger Wanaselja Architecture

Brendon Levitt, Architect,

Loisos + Ubbelohde

Editors’ response:

For more on one of the alternatives to foam insulation, mineral wool, see Mineral Wool Residential and Commercial Insulation.

Published September 25, 2009

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.