Is My Home Insulation Making Me Sick?

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Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has become a popular “green” solution in homes across the United States, and around the world. It is comparatively cost effective, energy efficient, and those who choose it are eligible for federal energy tax credits. Because of claims by SPF home insulation manufacturers and installation companies, many homeowners have selected SPF over standard insulation in thousands of homes—not only because of the economic benefits, but to improve indoor air quality. One manufacture has claimed “insulation is another major building product that has a long-term effect on the air you breathe. Environmentally-safe [SPF] will allow you to insulate your home or building without the harmful emissions, which improves the indoor air quality.”

Unfortunately, the opposite has been true for many homeowners. SPF insulation has not improved air quality in their homes. Instead, toxic exposure to spray foam insulation has caused serious health consequences for those who hoped to have safer healthier homes when they chose spray foam insulation.


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Spray Polyurethane Foam Toxins And Harmful Off-Gassing

SPF insulation is formed with a heat-releasing chemical reaction during the application process. The composition includes approximate equal parts of an “A-side,” isocyanate groups, typically methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and polymeric MDI, and a “B-side,” a poly resin blend. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that these chemicals have toxic properties that are harmful to humans at certain levels.

The application process involves a spray gun where the A-side and Bside are mixed together, and within a few minutes the combined chemicals form a tack-free foam. After application, homes with SPF typically have an odor, which has been described as a “musty” or “chemical smell.” Some have reported a “fishy smell.” On certain occasions the odor dissipates and at other times intensifies. For example, homeowners have reported the odor increases as temperatures rise and during the hottest months of the year.

These odors, or “off-gassing” can be the result of many variables. Installation errors are frequent due to the complex application process and necessary environmental controls, which must occur to prevent harmful chemical emissions during and after the SPF application process. Certain experts have concluded that proper installation is difficult, if not impossible to achieve in residential homes, based upon a wide range of variables in the field such as temperature, moisture, and untrained or under trained installation workers. Manufacturers have known about this for years but have done little to warn or protect the public as spray foam insulation sales increase across the country.


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Injuries From Exposure To Spray Polyurethane Foam

Prolonged or high-dose exposure to the toxins found in SPF, including isocyanates, may result in a myriad of health problems. Severe breathing problems and skin reactions have been reported, as well as neurological symptoms such as memory loss. SPF has been found to cause respiratory illness, asthma, lung damage, and even respiratory sensitization.

Sensitization is an allergic reaction where an individual becomes more responsive to chemical exposure at progressively lower concentrations, even below concentrations considered safe for most people. A hyperreactive response, such as an asthma attack, to even minimal concentration, may develop in sensitized individuals and can be life-threatening. Lung damage and sensitization may be permanent. Thus, those who become sensitized may be unable to reside in their homes or even come into contact with products or materials that contain polymeric isocyanates without having a severe reaction. Removal of SPF may provide little relief. Removal or remediation has in some cases intensified the original harmful impact of the spray foam insulation.

In Texas and other states, homeowners my proceed against the manufactures and installers of these products based upon breach of contract, negligence, strict products liability and for deceptive trade practices related to the sale and installation of the product. Dawn Smith


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Dawn Smith

Dawn Smith is licensed in California and Texas and is the managing partner of Smith Clinesmith in Dallas, Texas. She handles national cases involving toxic exposures, medical negligence and dangerous products. As a child, Dawn’s family inspired her to help others, and a school trip to the Supreme Court directed her to a career in law. Dawn immediately began trying cases after law school in Southern California. After moving home to Texas and managing a docket of 500 asbestos lawsuits, Dawn’s trial team achieved the largest single-plaintiff asbestos verdict in history, $322 million. For more information, contact Dawn at (214) 953-1900 or [email protected].

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