Hidden Danger: Spray Foam Insulation and Isocyanates
Spray foam insulation has been used for quite a few years to insulate homes—but it has not been without its problems. Despite problematical situations, it is still being installed in homes by owners who want energy efficiency and to save money.
But now more than ever, it’s becoming apparent that spray foam insulation can off-gas toxic fumes, producing health problems and injuries. It’s not only a problem for homeowners; workers are at risk as well. A whistleblower suit has been filed against four of the largest U.S. chemical companies, alleging a cover-up of the risks. Some are calling the situation the new Chinese drywall scandal, which affected 100,000 homes in 20 states during the 2000’s, with off-gassing of sulfuric fumes that damaged all copper surfaces in homes, including wiring and pipes. The fumes from the drywall also made people sick.
What is Spray Foam Insulation, and How Can It Harm Me?
Spray foam insulation, also known as spray polyurethane-based foam (SPF), contains a soup of chemicals that can cause harm. To blame is a group of compounds known as isocyanates, specifically, methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized that these chemicals have toxic properties harmful to humans.
Polyurethane foam, once it is solid and “cured,” poses no risk. But some products, such as adhesives and insulating materials, continue to react as they cure, exposing people to hazardous fumes.
The chemicals in SPF are not the end of the story. If spray foam insulation is applied by untrained workers who have no recognition of the dangers, the toxicity can be increased for both homeowners and workers alike. Misapplication of SPF and a lack of attention to safety procedures can mean a world of problems for everyone.
Worker Inexperience and an Increase in Usage
Part of the problem has been an increase in SPF’s usage to make homes more energy-efficient, with the labor done by those who lack appropriate training. For one thing, the foams and sealants are promoted for use by do-it-yourself homeowners, not trained professionals. The assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Steve Owens, noted that, “Many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals.” Additional problems have arisen from people in office buildings who are complaining of feeling sick after SPF has been used for improving energy efficiency during retrofits.
OSHA, EPA, and NIOSH All See the Danger
Workers are often in tight areas such as crawl spaces or attics while applying SPF. In response to that and SPF’s toxicity, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) devised a new rule that went into effect in August, 2015, to help prevent respiratory distress, flash fires, and damage to a worker’s health. This new rule, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA, requires SPF contractors to follow documented safety plans. Additionally, in some instances, another crewmember will need to be stationed outside of the restricted space in order to supervise access and provide worker assistance.
While SPF is still wet after application, the gases that are given off can cause a number of respiratory problems. Some of the symptoms of SPF toxicity are respiratory irritation, chemical bronchitis, asthma, joint pain, blurry vision, and, in the case of skin contact, reddening, rashes, itching, and swelling. Even a single exposure to these isocyanates at high concentrations can sensitize a person, causing a reaction, and may possibly instigate long-term respiratory problems.
The EPA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) classify isocyanates as the primary cause of work-related asthma due to chemical exposure.
The Situation in Florida
In the Longwood area of Florida, a dozen families claim that SPF, the insulation meant to save them energy dollars, is now flooding their homes with poisonous gases. Some families can no longer live in their residences—that’s how bad the situation has become. People have developed flu-like symptoms and have been told by doctors to vacate the premises. In one case, tests of the air discovered hazardous levels of formaldehyde and other gases. The situation was characterized as “highly toxic.” All of these dozen or so families believe that SPF has poisoned their homes.
Whistleblowers Are Having Their Say
SPF and its isocyanates have been implicated in a False Claims Act (FCA) whistleblower suit that was unsealed in September of 2016 and involves four chemical companies. The $90 billion suit alleges that BASF Corporation, Bayer Material Science LLC, Dow Chemical Company, and Huntsman International LLC sold these risky isocyanates but deliberately concealed their dangers, both to consumers and to the EPA, for over two decades (1979 to 2003).
The allegations also claim that methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), toluene diisocyanate (TDI), and polymeric MDI (PMDI) are in polyurethane products that include:
- Foam used in insulation
- Paints, coatings, and adhesives
- Foam in cushions and mattresses
- Elastomers, which are used in the interiors of automobiles.
Have You Been Exposed?
If you have been suffering the symptoms of exposure to spray foam insulation because of your job, you will likely need to demonstrate that you were exposed directly to the foam in one of the following ways:
- Exposure to SPF fumes, dust, or particulates
- Exposure to a fire involving SPF
- Exposure during the SPF process that generates heat
- Direct contact with SPF.
It might be prudent to seek legal counsel if your job has made you sick.
Likewise, if you are a homeowner who has recently had SPF applied to your home, and you or your family have experienced coughs, asthma or other respiratory distress, headaches, sore throat, or flu-like symptoms, you may be experiencing a reaction to spray foam insulation. Pursuing legal assistance to discover your options could be a wise move.
The Injury Lawyer: Experienced and Compassionate Legal Assistance
The Law Office of Steven H. Heisler is currently taking on cases related to spray foam insulation. If you believe you or a loved one may fall into this category, we encourage you to set up an appointment with our legal team today so we can begin gathering the details of your case for review and provide you with legal guidance. We will work to protect your rights and keep your best interests in mind as we seek damages from the responsible parties in your case. Call the Law Office of The Injury Lawyer, Steven H. Heisler, today for a free initial consultation about whether you have a case. Call (410) 625-4878, or use our online contact form.