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Health Risks Associated with the Use of Polyurethane Foam Insulation

While polyurethane foam insulation has got many houseowners and builders waxing lyrical about it by dint of its many attributes, there are, however, health implications associated with it. In this WellnessKeen article, we discuss the health risks associated with the use of polyurethane foam insulation.
WellnessKeen Staff
Did You Know?
Polyurethane was earlier used in airplanes and was developed by the military in the 1940s. Its application as an effective insulating material became known in the 1970s.
In our quest to make our homes more efficient, safe, affordable, green, and healthy, have we ever thought that the very thing for which we expend on so much in our lives is compromised by some of our decisions? We are sure if you invest two minutes of your life and muse over it, you will most likely have a different take on it. Understanding Polyurethane foam insulation and the health implications of it is one of them.
What is Polyurethane foam insulation?
Polyurethane foam insulation has become quite popular despite being a relatively new material in the insulation industry. It is highly effective as an air sealant that seals and insulates small gaps that helps prevent unwanted air-flow and develops into a water-resistant seal which reduces condensation. It is applied on walls, roof tiles, concrete slabs, attic as well as to fill cracks and fissures in the wall for its insulating properties and high R-value (measure for thermal resistance, which is associated with resistance to undesirable air and water leakage), of course if you are opting for the closed-cell foam version of it.
What are its components?
Moving on to its components, polyurethane foam insulation is produced using two type of liquid chemicals - Side A and Side B that are mixed together at the time of installation. What leads us to our topic of discussion is the presence of isocyanates in Side A which is harmful to our health. This is not to say that Side B chemicals are safe, even they are known to cause endocrine disruption (that can lead to cancerous tumors, adverse reproductive effects, etc.). Some of the common health hazards posed by polyurethane foam insulation are listed below.
Health risks associated with Polyurethane foam insulation
The chemicals used in polyurethane foam insulation are known to cause occupational asthma, most predominantly due to the chemical, isocyanate.
They also contain chemicals that cause 'sensitization' that set off allergic reactions in individuals like irritation of eyes, nose, throat, skin, breathing difficulties, etc. Failure to treat these allergic reactions can prove fatal and cause respiratory disease and asthma attack.
Exposure to these harmful chemicals are most likely to cause coughing, chest pain, nausea, headache, etc.
Compounds in isocyanates are recognized as potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing agents).
Toxic fumes released from polyurethane foam insulation can cause temporary blindness as well as can cause one to lose conscious.
Another problem that tags along with polyurethane foam insulation is its overwhelmingly lingering odor which induces nausea and throat irritation.
While there are many health hazards that are identified with polyurethane foam insulation, there are many who believe that they can be prevented with careful and proper mixing of the components. There are many companies that offer do-it-yourself foam installation products, however, it is strictly recommended to get a foam installation done from a trained technician, because if, god forbid, while installing you miss a step or botch up the components, the result could be very destructive.
It is also to be noted that most of the allergic reaction and potential health hazards ensue if the polyurethane foam used hasn't been cured or has undergone chemical reactions. The cured polyurethane foam is 'inert' and does not cause any health problems.