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A Declaration of Independence from Foam Plastic Insulation

July 3, 2013

Signing of the Decleration of IndependenceWhen in the course of constructing and renovating buildings, it becomes necessary for architects, consultants and builders to stop using materials and methods which have defined high-performance building in our time, and determine to set a new course separate and free from foam plastic insulation and the chemical companies that push it, the consideration of others requires that they declare the causes for this separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that building and renovating should be done with certain unalienable duties: that among these are to promote the health and well-being of building occupants, while protecting our natural resources and biosphere, providing happiness today and for the generations to come.  That to secure these duties, choices are made by practitioners, deriving their powers from the best current science available.  That when any form of corporate domination becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of practitioners to alter their choices and institute new methods, laying a new foundation on such principles and organizing its means, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  Prudence dictates that means and methods long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that we are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right them.  But when a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same Objective evinces a design to hold building industry practitioners captive to their absolute deceptions, it is the practitioners right, it is their duty, to throw off such materials, means and methods, and provide new Guards for their future security.  Such has been the patient sufferance of practitioners, building occupants and our biosphere.  The history of the present foam plastic insulation industry, is a history of repeated injuries and deceptions, all having in direct object the establishment of tyranny over the building industry.   To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

  1. It is made primarily from isocyanate, formed from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI).  MDI is manufactured with benzene, chlorine compounds and formaldehyde leading to release of dioxins and furans –  bioaccumulative toxicants, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.  MDI is also a known allergen and sensitizing toxicant.  See here.
  2. Its catalyst is often an amine compound or lead naphthenate – and can induce a wide range of debilitating effects to the body, from the skin to the nervous system.  See here.
  3. The hydrocarbon blowing agents used for closed-cell foam are a potent greenhouse gas and in many cases may cause more global warming than it can ever prevent.  See here. (GreenBuilding.com subscription)
  4. Flame retardants in it are made from halogenated organic compounds with chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon and are persistent bioaccumulative toxins which can be found worldwide in humans, wildlife and the environment.  See here.
  5. Its flame retardants don’t work, consequently we are poisoning our environment with them for the illusion of fire protection.  See here.
  6. It regularly greenwashes with claims of soy and other natural ingredients in the polyol – declining to mention the toxicity of the dominant and unaltered MDI. See here.
  7. It can produce unhealthy off-gassing, and forming the basis for multi-state lawsuits.
  8. It has forbidden its Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance.  See here.
  9. It is petroleum-based and a fire accelerant, feeding fires, reducing effective firefighting response times, and causing more damage, injuries, and death.  See here and here.
  10. Its improper installation has started fires with deadly consequences.  See here.
  11. That burning it produces toxic pollution, dangerous to occupants,  first responders, and the surrounding environment.  See here.
  12. It has over-stated insulating values.  Given the declining insulating value over time and often at colder temperatures of closed-cell foam, it has not provided accurate data on actual insulating values under conditions practitioners reasonably expect.  See here.
  13. It has undermined the resilience of assemblies:
    1. It is hygrophobic and doesn’t actively help manage moisture intrusion.
    2. It excessively shrinks and expands putting undue stress on connections.  See here.
    3. It is inflexible and prone to cracking.
    4. It provides weak and unpredictable air control.
    5. It can be a counterproductive vapor retarder/barrier, creating wet conditions at sheathing.  See pages 11& 12 of pdf here.
  14. Its on-site manufacture in spray form is hypersensitive, and regularly results in substandard and virtually unrepairable messes while gassing the building and environment with toxins.

We therefore declare, appealing to our conscience as stewards for building occupants today, first responders, and future generations, That architects, consultants and builders ought to be Free of chemical company disinformation and the dominance of foam plastic insulation, with full power to make foam-free assemblies and foam-free deep energy retrofits that are more resilient, energy efficient and non-toxic.  That as Free and Independent practitioners, they have full power to Act in all manners to secure their sacred duties.

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3 Responses to A Declaration of Independence from Foam Plastic Insulation

  1. Christian Corson July 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    I’ll sign

  2. awabrams July 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Ken, that was delightful. Curiously, Passive House practitioners (like myself) remain reliant on high density EPS for subgrade applications, placing great faith in the long term load bearing capacity of ant food.

    • Ken Levenson August 17, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      Alan,
      Thanks so much. Sorry for the extreme delayed response – finally catching up here. Agreed – the subgrade applications are the final frontier as it were. We’re actively pushing manufacturers from Roxul to Foamglas to provide more and better options, affordable and robust. Let’s hope we see some movement soon.

      All best,
      Ken

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