Article from 475 High Building Perfomance – Why Foam Fails #1 of 13

Why Foam Fails. Reason #1: Dangerous Toxic Ingredients

For more from High Building Performance Supply 475 visit:

Posted on December 3, 2012 by 475Ken

The chemical companies selling polyurethane foam as green and sustainable, demonstrate chutzpah second only to that of the tobacco and coal industries.   Admittedly, if you believe in “clean coal”, foam might be what you’re looking for.

But if you didn’t believe the tobacco scientists and executives that cigarettes weren’t addictive, and you think the proposition of clean coal is a sick joke – then maybe it is time to take a closer look at foam.

Like cigarettes, foam fails at the most basic level of sustainability: its ingredients.  And as with coal, the effect of its processing and use is significant and detrimental to our environmental  well being.   The EPACDC and other government agencies are taking action to study foam building insulation products, their ingredients and their effects on workers, building occupants and the environment generally.   There are innumerable variations between polyurethane (PUR) open cell, closed cell, expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS) and spray polyurethane foam (SPF), as well as polyisocyanurate (Polyiso/PIR),  ingredients and processes – yet  there are some general commonalities, and the news is not good.

“Green” McMansion in foam. Double trouble.

Typically the ingredients includeisocynate and polyol, with a dash of blowing agent and additives.  The polyol which combines with the isocynate to form polyurethane, is generally a relatively benign alcohol compound and is used primarily asgreenwash PR as it can be made withsoy and other natural materials.   Unfortunately this bit of soy based green(wash) is obliterated in a toxic stew.

The isocyanate is typically formed from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate or MDI.   The manufacture of MDI is always done in the factory and involves such ingredients as benzenechlorine compounds, and formaldehydewhich lead to emissions of dioxins and furans; bioaccumulative toxicants, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.    The resulting MDI may be handled on the jobsite in making SPF.  (Polyiso has a much higher proportion of MDI to polyol than other polyurethane foams.)

MDI is a known allergen and sensitizing toxicant.   From the EPA:

Diisocyanates are well known dermal and inhalation sensitizers in the workplace and have been documented to cause asthma, lung damage, and in severe cases, fatal reactions.”

Once you have been “sensitized” from exposure to MDI, even the tiniest subsequent exposure can have severe health effects.

The catalyst for the reaction/curing is often an amine compound or lead naphthenate.    Amine is derived from ammonia.   (And can produce the fishy off-gassing smell many encounter.  For more on this see future post, #6 Unhealthy off-gassing.)

From the Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry:

“Many amine-based compounds can induce histamine liberation, which, in turn, can trigger allergic and other physiological effects, including bronchoconstriction or bronchial asthma and rhinitis.

Systemic symptoms include headache, nausea, faintness, anxiety, a decrease in blood pressure, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), itching, erythema (reddening of the skin), urticaria (hives), and facial edema (swelling). Systemic effects (those affecting the body) that are related to the pharmacological action of amines are usually transient.  Typically, there are four routes of possible or potential exposure: inhalation, skin contact, eye contact, and ingestion.”

Lead naphthenate  may have effects on the central nervous system and kidneys and it is advised that avoid exposure to pregnant women.   The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the CDC, states:  “It is strongly advised that this substance does not enter the environment.”

The hydrocarbon blowing agent HFC-245fa is now commonly used and is a potent greenhouse gas.   (more on this in the next post, #2 Irredeemable global warming potential.)   EPS foam boards usepentane as a blowing agent.  Pentane doesn’t have high global warming potential but is a relatively poor blowing agent due to relatively high boiling point.

Primary flame retardants include HBCD and TCPP: Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), made of halogenated organic compounds with chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon,  and Tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCPP), are both persistent bioaccumulative toxins which can be found worldwide in humans, wildlife, and the environment.    A recent  scientific study notes:

“The chemicals are released during the product life cycle and move into the environment, humans and animals. Such halogenated flame retardants act by releasing active halogen atoms (called free radicals) which can quench the chemical reactions occurring in the flame.  HBCD and TCPP are used additively, which means they are not chemically bonded to foam and have the potential to migrate out. They can enter the environment as releases during chemical and product manufacturing, as well as leaching from products during use and disposal.”

The same study comes to the astonishing conclusion that flame retardants, while poisoning our planet and our bodies, have been shown to be ineffective.

“Studies demonstrate that the Steiner Tunnel [ASTM E84] 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.”

So in this last case we’re effectively poisoning ourselves for the illusion of fire protection.  It’s not like we don’t have a choice.   We can do better than foam – much better.  Kick the foam habit.

(Video of sprayfoam installation – a moon suit with full face mask are needed to ‘safely’ install the foam.  Source:

This the first post of a 13 part blog series, Foam Fails.  The next post in this series will be Reason #2:  Irredeemable global warming potential.


EPA Takes Action on Spray-Foam Health Risks, by Peter Yost, EBN, 2011  (

Health and Safety Produt Stewardship Workbook for High-Pressure Application of Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF), American Chemistry Council, Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, 2010 (

Help Wanted: Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation Research, by David A. Marlow, NOISH/CDC, 2012 (

Identification and Analysis of Product/Chemicals Exchange Information within thte Building Product Sector, by Catherine A. Wilt et al., The Center for Clean Products, 2011 (

Isocyanates, NOISH/CDC.  (

Flame retardants in building insulation: a case for re-evaluating building codes,  by Vytenis Babrauskas et al., Routledge, 2012   (

Letter to EPA from Mr. Miller and Mr. Bloom, by Bernard Bloom and Robert Miller, 2012 (

Polyisocyanurate, Widipedia (

Polyurethane Amine Catalysts: Guidelines for Safe Handling and Disposal, Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry, 2000 ( 

Sprayed Polyurethane Foams: An Explosive Issue, by Jim Vallette, Pharos, 2010 (

The Flame Retardant Dilemma:  Should Green Buildings Contain Halogenated Flame Retardants?, Green Science Policy Institute, 2010 (

Ten Reasons “Clean Coal Is Offensive, by Kevin Grandia, Climate Progress, 2012 (

Tobacco Chiefs Say Cigarettes Aren’t Addictive, by Philip J. Hilts, The New York Times, 1994 (

Understanding Spray Foam – Spray Foam Problems, Law Offices of Wolf & Pravato (

Urethane Foams Move From HCFCS To “Cleaner” Blowing Agents, Plastics Technology, 2003  (

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged ,. Bookmark the permalink.

Needed: Research on Spray Foam Insulation – Real Life Application and Safety Data

Dear Silent Spring, Mom’s Rising, Green Science Policy and CPSC

Thank you for all your research on flame retardants and couches and car seats.

Couches and car seats need to be as non toxic and safe as possible without a doubt, but what about a much larger part of a home like its insulation.

Technically, spray foam insulation is sandwiched between sheathing and drywall, but don’t be fooled it still can off gas and pollute your homes’ air with plenty o’ chemicals like flame retardants.

In the attic, SPF is often left visible and can be dumped, cracked, and broken – all resulting in more chemicals exposed which means more junk in your air.

Please, Please , Please look into spray foam insulation and its toxic soup of chemical ingredients / flame retardants.

I run the blog and am contacted daily from people unable to live in their homes due to the off gassing of this “inert, green” product.

Where is the data or research that can truly show SPF is safe in residential use.  Where is the data showing the long term safety?

Lots of data is being captured from homes that show it is not safe, perhaps this needs more attention.

I have many pages of chamber and air tests of our home with spf in it, all reports deem the home too contaminated to live safely in.
I am happy to share our results; other homes also show many similarities and trends in the chemical off gassing.

The flame retardant, Tris was found in the samples of our home and other spf homes with Demilec and other brands.

AQS Environmental  Lab ( Green Guard Certification Lab, Founder – Marilyn Black) did our testing and Robert Miller of Argus is our Industrial Hygienist – so credibility of the testing is far from being in question.

More people need to be made aware that this building product carries serious potential side effects.
From what I have learned, most everyone who specs SPF is doing so because the ‘green’ leaders and governing bodies are pushing it.
It is a high R value product, but what good is that if it causes harm?

Please consider more research or regulation of spray foam insulation.

Please consider signing my petition: “EPA: Require full disclosure of toxic chemicals used in spray foam insulation” on

It’s important. Will you sign it too? Here’s the link:


WFTV Channel 9 News Exposes More Toxic Spray Foam Homes.

Todd Ulrich of WFTV aired another news story on toxic spray foam homes last night.

WFTV did not state the brand of SPF used last night, but most brands of SPF have had complaints with Demilec having the most complaints and legal suits filed thus far.

In response to WFTV’s story the American Chemistry Council issued a statement :

…“Spray foam can provide enormous benefits to homeowners, especially in places like Florida where climate control and moisture concerns are significant. Spray foam is a highly effective insulation material and has a unique ability to fill the gaps that can be difficult to seal and allow air to escape. Using spray foam to seal air leaks can help manage moisture and humidity in a building. By controlling moisture, spray foam can limit one of the key variables that can lead to mold and mildew growth.

Wow, that response sounds like it came right out of the sales manual for SPF marketing.

The truth about SPF is …the effectiveness of SPF is good, no one ever disputed that it is not a great insulator. Asbestos was good too.

As for reducing mold and mildew, it does not stop growth of mold – in fact a lot of issues are coming to the surface that homes are filled with mold under the SPF on roof decks due to leaks that go unnoticed.  Also, some homes become too tight from SPF (yes, because it is an effective insulator, but at what cost to your health???) and the HVAC may not have any fresh air intake or proper ventilation thereby adding to moisture problems in the home.

SPF  has flame retardants that become air borne and attach to dust in the home.

“Halogenated fire retardants are becoming widespread in the environment. Halogenated fire retardants (HFRs) can migrate out of furniture foam, electronics, fabric and other consumer products as well as foam insulation so humans are exposed to a “cocktail” of such toxins. Levels of HFRs are increasing in household dust, human blood and breast milk, and wild animals. The chemicals are widely distributed in the outdoor environment with the highest concentrations in the Arctic and marine mammals. Certain classes of brominated fire retardants, the polybrominated diphenyl ethers, have been banned for most applications, but other halogenated chemicals have replaces them.”


Chlorinated Tris is banned from kids sleepwear in 1979, but it is allowed in our couches and insulation – WTH!

SPF chemicals migrate into all building material during install, especially so if no ventilation of the home during install (did you installer have fans going and windows open?).

SPF contains chemicals that sensitize people/animals and can cause chronic sensitivity to all products containing like chemicals.  Think of living in a bubble because everything from your car AC to entering IKEA make you sick.  SPF is not worth that is it?

SPF produces lethal gases during a fire – the typical response time for fire fighters fighting a foam house is longer because of the protective gear needed.

SPF has so many variables that the ONLY way to get it 100% correct is in a controlled setting like a lab, not on your driveway.

If you SPF seems ok today and not presenting any symptoms or smells, wait for 6 – 7 years then check in again.  More and more homeowners are finding their SPF to start off gassing after 6-7 years.  Why is unknown but perhaps its breaking down due to conditions of being heated/cooled on the underside of the roof deck or wall cavities.

Homeowners that do not know if they have SPF, look in your attic or crawl space. Crawl spaces with SPF are common unfortunately  mold and off gassing also can happen in these homes – but it is hard to pin point because it is in the crawl space.

If you have any concerns about your spray foam insulation, please contact me at

Explain what your concern is, any symptoms you experience in the home/space, type of SPF, When installed and what the SPF looks like. can help you test your foam and air.

Your air and foam can be tested for elevated chemicals.


Are you worried about your spray foam insulation?

If you are concerned that your home spray foam insulation is making you feel sick or has an odor,  is crusty or too soft or irritates your eyes, throat, chest, head or gives you body aches, or are coughing while in your home, it is time to get an inspection.

Not all foam looks bad to be bad.

If you feel sick in your home and you have spray foam insulation, please contact us at foamproblem (at)

We can provide you with referrals in your area that understand SPF.

Bette to know if your home is a bath of SPF off gassing before more damage is done.



Amine Study Points to Real Symptoms from Odor

Here is a study (Staff Review of Five Amine Catalysts in Spray Polyurethane Foam 09/19/2012) that backs the evidence that the amines used in SPF are contributing to the symptoms that drive many people out of their spray foam insulated homes.

If your spray foam company tells you the odors oozing from your foam is a nuisance odor, send them this study or have them speak to an Industrial Hygienist.

The B side of SPF is made up of Amines and here is a little info from the study…

…Exposure to the B-side chemicals can cause irritation of the respiratory tract, causing cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and runny nose (ACC, 2010). Inhalation of some amine catalyst vapors can temporarily cause vision to become foggy or blurry, and halos may appear around bright objects such as lights (ACC, 2010). Skin contact may cause moderate to severe irritation and burns, from redness and swelling to painful blistering, ulceration, and chemical burns (ACC, 2010). Amine catalysts can also irritate the eyes and may cause the following symptoms at low concentrations: corneal swelling without pain; blurred or “foggy” vision with a blue tint; and a halo phenomenon effect around lights. Higher vapor concentrations or direct contact with the liquid amines may result in severe irritation and tissue injury (ACC, 2011). If amines are ingested, this may result in severe irritation, ulceration, or burns of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and gastrointestinal tract. Other serious symptoms may include pain in the chest or abdomen, nausea, bleeding of the throat and gastrointestinal tract, diarrhea, dizziness, thirst, circulatory collapse, coma, and even death (ACC, 2011).


Alters and Pravato stand up to Demilec.

2012-10-04 12:00:00 AM
Miami attorney Jeremy Alters said he is going to do to spray polyurethane foam insulation what plaintiffs lawyers did to Chinese drywall — make the manufacturers and installers pay for the homes and lives they ruined.
The Alters Law Firm filed five federal lawsuits in recent months over the summer against manufacturers and installers, starting with a complaint filed in Miami against Demilec USA LLC and Masco Services Group Corp. in May. Others are about to be filed across the nation in the next few weeks.
The lawsuits claim the insulation foam contains carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and isopropylene, that can cause respiratory illness and distress.
Alters said he expects the lawsuits, like with the numerous Chinese drywall cases, eventually will be consolidated for pretrial issues either in a multidistrict litigation action or mass tort action in front of one federal judge.
Tainted Chinese drywall led to homes stinking of sulphur and the corrosion of metal in air conditioners, appliances and other household items. Homes built during the housing boom had to be gutted to the studs. Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, the top supplier of the drywall, has settled numerous lawsuits around the country for at least $800 million.
“It is very unfortunate what has happened to many homeowners with the installation of defective Chinese drywall, and we believe that the installation of this specific spray foam insulation can even be as widespread, or even more widespread, than Chinese drywall,” Alters said.
Spray polyurethane foam insulation — known in the construction industry as SPF — came into vogue in the last decade, also during the housing boom. The insulation is a semi-rigid substance created by the chemical reaction of two sets of compounds combined at the worksite. It is sprayed into walls and attics by an installer wearing a breathing apparatus.
When applied, the foam is supposed to become inert and nontoxic, but the Miami lawsuit claimed that doesn’t occur “given the exacting set of installation requirements and inadequate training and installer certification methods.”
Installers mix the compound at construction sites.
“It’s supposed to be mixed at a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit in a sterile clean environment,” Alters said. “It doesn’t work. It becomes toxic.”
Green product
The Lydecker Diaz firm in Miami is representing Demilec. Attorneys at the firm had no comment or did not respond to emails on the pending lawsuits.
A call for comment to the Arlington, Texas-based company was not returned by deadline.

No End in Sight for Spray Foam Problems

Goodness.  Over the past two weeks I have been contacted by 5 families living in hotels or rentals because they feel sick inside their spray foamed homes.

As an update: Lawsuits are being filed from three (at least) different firms against manufactures such as Demilec, Icynene and Bayer (to name the top few).

Some families are being paid small amounts compared to what they have lost and have to sign all future rights away.

My roster of foam families keeps growing yet foam companies still have the nerve to deny any issues.

Here is the topper…Dave Lall told me during our phone conversation that it is the installers fault; he even used an analogy of installers cutting corners and hoping not to get caught in order to save money with a guy at a bar taking the last drink his friends bought him before driving drunk home and hoping not to get caught.

Classy Dave, nice work for a CEO.

Also, It is somewhat satisfying to hear that my little blog sends your lawyers to court looking to find ways to get my communications with others.  Perhaps you should spend the time and money on helping people forced out of their homes because they used your product instead of in court asking for my emails!





I suppose this is how it works.





Hello ‘Green’ Architects and Builders, start doing your homework – SPF is not a ‘green’ Product

I am amazed at how many architects and ‘green’ builders continue to tell clients that spray foam is non toxic and is ‘GREEN’ Do your homework, people are paying you for your knowledge and expertise. There is NOTHING in the MSDS that is ‘green’ in Spray Foam. In fact everything listed is a known irritant at best.
Green Builders, Green Architects and Green Adviser’s please research the good and bad of every product you spec. Pay attention to trade secret on MSDS – THIS MEANS NO ONE DISCLOSES WHAT IS IN THE PRODUCT. Hence, no regulation.
Spray foam is a perfect example: Side B is approx 60-70% Trade Secret. Basically you have no idea what you are telling your client to spray in their new home. Further more if the install is not done EXACTLY perfect (weather, substrate temp, drum temp, hose temp, calibrated hoses, clean hoses, educated installer, temp of foam during the day, on ratio of side A and Side B, even how the drums (AKA chemicals) have been transported, stored ect then your final product is not what is tested to be INERT in a lab setting.
Your couch will off gas for 30 years at low levels and that is done in a controlled setting so imagine having a house filled with spray foam that was installed under a non controlled setting and tell me there is no off gassing.