Insulation plays a vital role in improving the energy efficiency of buildings, but chemical hazards may be present in a variety of product types.
Flame retardants in insulation are usually required to meet building codes. Halogenated flame retardants have been widely used in this capacity (particularly in plastic insulation, such as EPS, XPS and foams) but a number of these chemicals have associated health concerns. HBCD was one of the most widely used flame retardants globally, but has since been listed under the Stockholm Convention for phase-out. Despite this legislation, health concerns remain from legacy installations and as a result of HBCD’s persistence in the environment.
Spray foam insulation may contain isocyanates, and exposure through inhalation during curing can result in users developing respiratory problems and illnesses. This may affect installers or DIY users working without proper personal protective equipment.
Asbestos is still found in some insulation products and remains a global problem. Despite its known health effects, and national bans in more than 60 countries, it is still manufactured and as recently as 2017, it was estimated that nearly 30,000 people died from mesothelioma.