Jim Vallette - July 25, 2016
This week, product certifier Green Seal plans to release its new insulation standard, almost four months after receiving a slew of critiques of its draft. It has not yet certified any products, but the organization is asking buyers to ask for “Greener Insulation” that achieves Green Seal certification. We have not seen an advance copy of the final standard.
Promotional material now posted on Green Seal’s website indicates one significant change from the draft standard: it prohibits products containing hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), the standard flame retardant treatment in polystyrene insulation. It states, “a Green Seal-certified insulation product will not be formulated with formaldehyde, certain heavy metals, the flame retardant HBCD, and certain harmful pesticides.”
While we welcome the HBCD prohibition, unfortunately, it does not appear that Green Seal restricts other halogenated flame retardants. It chose to exempt toxic substances for which no substitutes are yet commercially available. Green Seal’s website says, “In some cases, there is a conflict between performance and leadership, and a tough decision must be made. For example, in some cases, a harmful ingredient, which does not have a substitute, is vital to the function of the product. In this case, when there is no better substitute and the risk to humans and the environment is limited, we will include an exemption, which means that the ingredient will not be prohibited.”
This exemption means that the new standard will certify as “greener” spray polyurethane foam, loaded with asthma-inducing methylene diisocyanates (MDI), halogenated flame retardants, and many other chemicals of concern. Other than requiring that manufacturers only sell their formulations to professional installers, it is not clear how the Green Seal team determined that such formulations pose a “limited risk to humans and the environment,” particularly since this product is reacted during installation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that isocyanate vapors from SPF insulation “may linger in a building until ventilated and thoroughly cleaned.” Even then, there is no time certain when SPF installed in a building stops off-gassing vapors. And, any cutting or trimming of SPF insulation may generate dust containing isocyanates that also may linger in a building.
As the Occupational Health Clinical Centers commented, “insulation workers, firefighters, employers and home residents will pay the price if Green Seal certifies products containing MDI and other toxic chemicals.”
HBN is scheduled to talk through these issues with Green Seal staff later this week, after they publish the standard. In addition, Green Seal promises to post detailed responses to the comments they’ve received. We will keep readers apprised of what we learn.
Toxic Insulation, Certified? Green Seal Needs to Hear From You (Pharos Signal, March 29, 2016) https://pharosproject.net/blog/show/217/toxic-insulation-certified-green-seal
HBN Commentary on Proposed Green Seal for Architectural Thermal Insulation Materials (GS-54) (Submission to Green Seal, April 6, 2016) https://www.pharosproject.net/uploads/files/sources/1/33aa2d015659c2ceb11dd41f952ca612d69073b0.pdf
HBCD-free Styrofoam™ Insulation Coming to USA (Pharos Signal blog, July 8, 2016) https://www.pharosproject.net/blog/show/224/hbcd-free-at-last
 US Environmental Protection Agency. “Potential Chemical Exposures From Spray Polyurethane Foam.” Safer Choice, October 14, 2015. https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/potential-chemical-exposures-spray-polyurethane-foam.
 Occupational Health Clinical Centers. “Comments on Green Seal GS-54 Proposed Standard.” April 2016.
Jim Vallette is the Research Director for the Healthy Building Network.