On average, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and indoor air can be two and a half times as polluted as outdoor air.
Indoor Air Quality is of particular concern for those affected by asthma and allergies, but a healthier home is of broader benefit to all.
The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program seeks to assist people to identify products which will make a genuine difference to their indoor environment. It develops certification standards for relevant categories of products, and all certified products undergo testing to those standards. In this way, the consumer can then make an informed choice about materials like insulation, flooring products, etc. that they bring into their home.
In the case of fiberglass insulation, the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the insulation during and after installation can impact on those with sensitive airways. There can be fibers, airborne particulates and dust released during and after installation. And some insulation can support mold growth. Our standard addresses these issues.
Our fiberglass insulation standard is one of over 50 standards in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, covering appliances, bedding products, air filters, building products, and services that can have an impact on the indoor air environment. You can explore the insulation standard in more detail using the menu on the left, or use the links above to explore other standards.
Brand Promises for Healthier Homes: An Interview with Owens Corning
It’s no secret that consumers are demanding products that are safer and healthier for themselves and their families. But many brands are capitalizing on this by making health claims that are scientifically unfounded. What separates the companies that are delivering on their brand promise from the ones that are not, and how can companies tighten their messaging to cut across the noise?
An interview with Owens Corning, an over six-billion-dollar company known for its innovative insulation, roofing, and composites
Here, Allergy Standards’ VP of Strategic Business Development, Courtney Sunna, interviews leaders, brand managers, and marketers who are part of a global movement towards healthier products that are rooted in rigorous science. In this interview, meet Chris Anderson and Ashley Hartford, leaders from Owens Corning, an over six-billion-dollar company known for its innovative insulation, roofing, and composites, and has earned its place on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for nine straight years.
Courtney: Owens Corning was recently named No. 3 on Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens, for the fourth consecutive year. That’s an impressive honor! How do ideas and innovations in the marketing department align with corporate goals and responsibilities related to health and sustainability?
Owens Corning is driven by our purpose that our people and products make the world a better place. Health, sustainability, and safety are core pillars of what drives our product innovations. Our marketing teams work with both the product and technical teams to take a market back approach to evolving our existing products and influencing other product innovation.
Courtney: How does Owens Corning evaluate which organizations, partnerships, and opportunities to align with in order to convey specific messaging about a product’s features and benefits?
Owens Corning is constantly innovating and values and seeks out industry experts to collaborate on those innovations which will have meaningful impact for both residential constructions and consumer markets. These partnerships benefit them and add further value and trust in the product they’re using. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and their partner Allergy Standard Limited (ASL), provide the expertise, testing and independent certification to develop the industry first allergy and asthma friendly® insulation. We also work with the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), Greenguard Certification Program, UL Environment, and SCS Global Services for recycled content and wind energy certifications.
UL Safety standard
asthma & allergy friendly®
Courtney: The Pure Safety® Insulation product launched last year, exclusively with The Home Depot. What were some of the marketing challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them? Could you share any feedback?
Pure Safety® Insulation Home Depot
Overall air quality, which is very important, is still an incoming trend for homeowners. We worked with our Business Insights team to understand the target audience and how to communicate the importance of overall air quality most effectively. When shopping for insulation, homeowners and pros go into the store knowing what they want, so we needed to work on making them aware of the innovation prior to going to the store and reach them earlier in their decision-making process. Digital and online marketing were very effective channels for creating awareness in addition to in-store marketing.
Courtney: Last year, Javier Cuadrado from Owens Corning’s science and technology area, said that extensive testing was conducted with millennial homebuyers to find out what they care about, and it turns out that family health and safety is of utmost importance. Could you share some background and insights during this phase of the process?
We knew going into this project that specific product innovations would not resonate with every customer segment. Millennials look for value in the products they purchase including home improvement projects, and they look for solutions that help protect the health and safety of their home.
When considering the many benefits of insulation like energy savings, noise reduction and having a comfortable home, millennials with young families viewed the allergy and asthma friendly® certification as a differentiating factor from other products and ranked it high on the list of product claims for Pure Safety.
Owens Corning Pure Safety
Courtney: Tell me about the alignment of innovation within R&D and how it can be translated into a meaningful marketing message?
The Science and Technology team engineered formulations starting with a low dust fiberglass recipe combined with a higher density product that resulted in improved fire and sound claims. This translated into a strong value proposition and marketing message of “up to 50% noise reduction”, “fire resistance”, and the “industry’s first allergy and asthma friendly® insulation”.
Courtney: What advice do you give to young marketers looking to align themselves with a values and purpose-driven company?
Marketing, at it’s core, is meant to create and deliver value – a task that is made much easier at a company with a strong sense of purpose and transparent values. If you know what you believe in and trust the products you’re marketing, you inherently become more effective at educating or convincing your end-user. Owens Corning is a trusted brand that has continued to reinvent itself and its solutions for over 80 years. That trust, along with continuous product innovations, a growing global presence, and a strongly recognized brand, allow marketers to be more creative while remaining credible and relevant.
Courtney: What is changing in the field of product claims and marketing?
Consumers are inundated with claims. When it comes to product claims and marketing, in order to break through the clutter, it must be intuitive and matter to the homeowners we target. The asthma & allergy friendly® certification does both.With many homeowners having some sort of asthma or allergy issue, this messaging is relevant and resonates, and the benefits come to life in the claim.
Owens Corning Insulation
Courtney: How does your digital strategy enhance the traditional retail shopping experience?
A history of insights show that people start their shopping journey online. Consumers aren’t reading signage, packaging, or shopping the aisle.
We focused on an integrated marketing approach to reach the homeowner earlier in their journey by updating our website, product information pages, advertising banners, and executing search/SEO targeting.
This online strategy targets key audiences and markets, and is consistent with the traditional in-store experience, so homeowners have better recall of Pure Safety® when they arrive in store.
Courtney: Could you share any feedback from consumers about this product?
Here is a perfect example of a Home Depotcustomer communicating the benefits of Pure Safety® Insulation taken from HomeDepot.com:
Owens Corning Pure Safety
‘…After some research, I found that this Owens Corning® Pure Safety® Insulation is the first insulation to win the allergy and asthma friendly® Certification. That was huge for me. I spent a lot of time going through our house, looking for anything that caused a reaction. All of things I did improved the air quality in our house, but I think this new insulation had the greatest impact. Because you don’t see it you don’t think about it, but I breathe easier just knowing that it is designed to be good for the indoor atmosphere. Also, this insulation has very low dust and is mold, mildew and fire resistant.’
Courtney: What segments are you focusing on for the upcoming year?
We have interest from other customers on how Pure Safety® Insulation will allow them to differentiate in the other products they offer. We are also launching the Pure Safety® product in the new construction channel with the builder segment who focus on overall air quality.
Courtney: Thank you both.
Standard Abstract 19-01: Fiberglass Insulation
Synthetic Home Insulation (Fiberglass) Products that are Certified asthma & allergy friendly® are tested to the ASP:19-01/101 Certification Standard. The certification process utilizes an algorithm of proprietary and recognized scientific techniques to assess Fiberglass Synthetic Home Insulation products for their action as a source of allergenic and irritant materials, both at the time of purchase and thereafter when in use. Product samples that pass certification testing are granted a certificate stating that the particular Synthetic Home Insulation Fiberglass product meets the requirements for the asthma & allergy friendly® ASP:19-01/101 Certification Standard.
- Constituent review
- Evaluation of airborne particle, fiber and dust release during Insulation installation and disturbance.
- Evaluation of the ability of Insulation to support fungal growth.
- Volatile organic compound (VOC) emission testing
Part 1: Constituent review of Synthetic Home Insulation Fiberglass product
Due to the health-based nature of the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program it is necessary to review the constituents of the fiberglass insulation to ensure that there are no allergenic or sensitizing chemicals present, or that their concentration is low enough to warrant no concern for sensitive individuals. A constituent list of chemicals used in the fiberglass insulation should be forwarded to Allergy Standards Limited where this will be reviewed. This information is treated as highly sensitive and is managed in the strictest confidence.
Part 2: Evaluation of airborne particle, fiber and dust release during Insulation installation and disturbance.
The majority of human exposure to fiberglass insulation occurs in the occupational context. There is significant potential for the generation of airborne fibers and dust during installation, disturbance or manipulation of fiberglass i.e. installers and end users can be exposed to dust, particle and fiber during its installation and retrofit/removal. Once installed the products generally do not produce airborne fiber levels that result in significant consumer exposure. When testing fibreglass insulation, we simulate installation into an environmental chamber as well as human activity (‘disturbance’) and measure dust, particle and fiber emissions. Airborne dust, particle and fiber levels must be below Certification limits during installation and room disturbance in the presence of the fiberglass insulation.
Part 3: Evaluation of the ability of Insulation to support fungal growth
The fiberglass insulation must be demonstrated to be resistant to fungal growth.
Part 4: Volatile organic compound (VOC) emission testing
Limit Level (mg/m3)
- The level of each VOC excluding formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, should remain less than 50% of the chronic REL* (CREL) at 336 hours post-installation.
- For particular compounds having an increased potential to irritate airways, a figure significantly less than 50% is set.
- This percentage figure is determined on an individual basis.
- Where CREL figures are not available, each component must remain less than 10% of the TLV**.
- The level of each VOC component must remain less than 10% of the TLV at 24, 48 and 336 hours post-application.
* A chronic REL is an airborne level of a chemical at or below which no adverse health effects are anticipated in individuals indefinitely exposed to that level. RELs are developed from the best available published scientific data, based solely on health considerations.
** Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) reflect the level of exposure that the typical worker can experience without an unreasonable risk of disease or injury (ACGIH). They are guidelines to assist industrial hygienists and others in making decisions regarding safe levels of exposure to various hazards found in the workplace. They are not quantitative estimates of risk at different exposure levels or by different routes of exposure.
All Certified asthma & allergy friendly® Synthetic Home Insulation Fiberglass Products are associated with a unique Certification code.
Why and how we certify insulation – a Q&A
There is ever-increasing awareness of the chemicals we come into contact with every day, particularly if you or a member of your family has asthma or allergies. We created the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program to help you improve your indoor air environment by identifying products and services that can help to reduce allergens and create a healthier home environment.
But what is it that makes some insulation better for the indoor environment than others, and where do we draw the line to decide to certify insulation as asthma & allergy friendly®? We hope that the questions below will clarify this. Let us know if you have more questions!
Why do we certify insulation?
Our goal in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is to create healthier indoor air for you and your family, and so we look at all elements of the indoor environment. Some types of insulation can contain or release chemicals that can cause sensitivity, particularly while they are being installed and directly afterwards. There can be fibres, airborne particles, and dust released during and after installation. And some insulation can support mold growth.
We take a balanced approach in certifying products. We want to identify insulation that does not contain materials that are unnecessarily harmful. And we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended.
What kind of insulation do we certify and why?
We certify fiberglass insulation. This is because it is a material which can be made without some of the potentially sensitising chemicals that are present in some types of insulation, such as halogenated flame retardants. It is also relatively cost-effective, and therefore provides a reasonable option for consumers wishing to find healthier options for their homes.
What do we look for in insulation?
We look at four areas when we test fiberglass insulation.
1. Dust and fibers released during installation
The first is the dust and fibers released during installation.
We install insulation in an environmentally-controlled chamber. During the installation we measure the amount of dust that is produced, and the amount of small fibers that are released into the air. We agitate the dust during this test, to mimic a person walking around near the insulation. We measure the amount of dust and fibers that are produced, and set strict limits for those.
Why can dust and fibers be harmful?
Airborne fibers and dust can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. This can affect anyone, although the effects are likely to be stronger in those with asthma or allergies. This is kind of irritation does not usually cause long-term damage. Fibers can also irritate the skin, however this is not due to any chemicals in the fibers but rather that because of the way they are structured they can scratch the skin.
Most exposure to the dust and fibers in fiberglass insulation occurs in people whose job is to install insulation. The fibers are generally only released during and just after installation.
The second is what level of VOCs are emitted by the insulation. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemical compounds that easily become vapours or gases. When you can smell paints, adhesives, cleaners, insect repellents, new furniture, printer fluid etc., these smells are caused by VOCs being released.
We place a sample of insulation in an environmentally controlled chamber, where we can measure all of the VOCs released over 14 days. We record the levels after 24, 48, and 336 hours, to make sure that throughout this time period the levels remain low.
Why do we do VOC tests?
Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness, and other side-effects. These may impact more on people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as people with asthma and certain allergies. We want to make sure that VOC emissions are as low as possible. However, if you are someone with asthma or respiratory allergies, it would still be better for you to avoid being in the room during or directly after insulation installation.
3. Resistance to mold growth
The third is whether or not the insulation supports mold growth. It is sometimes claimed that fiberglass insulation is inherently resistant to mold growth. However, some studies have shown that mold can grow on fiberglass insulation, particularly when the right moisture and temperature conditions are present. So we place mold spores on pieces of insulation in the lab, and keep them at high temperature and humidity for four weeks to see if the mold spreads. Only insulation that does not support mold growth is eligible for certification.
4. Constituent review
The fourth is the make-up of the insulation. We do a detailed assessment of all the materials used to make the insulation, and what concentration they are present at. There are many chemicals which are known to irritate skin and/or eyes or to which certain people can be particularly sensitive. But if they are present at a suitably low level and used correctly this is unlikely to cause problems.
Why do we do a constituent review?
We want to make sure that any potentially irritant or sensitising chemicals are present as a low enough level so that the probability of a reaction to them is as low as possible. We therefore look at all the constituents of the insulation.
One particular issue relating to insulation is the flame retardant that is required in some forms of insulation for safety reason. Traditionally the type of flame retardant used in many types of insulation is called a halogenated flame retardant, and the most common form was called HBCD. HBCD is a pollutant, and can increase the toxicity of a building. It has now been banned in many countries, and has been replaced other materials. However, most of these other materials have similar chemical structures to HBCD, and there is a lack of long-term evidence on their impacts. By its nature fiberglass insulation does not need to have flame retardants in it for safety reasons. Our certification standard requires that none of these flame retardants are present.
Is there insulation that is definitely safe?
Unfortunately, no. Given the variability between people, and the variety of sensitivities and allergic responses that different people can have, it is simply not possible to say a type of insulation will not cause sensitivities for anyone.
But there are definitely some insulation that create a healthier indoor environment than others, because they emit lower VOCs in your home over time, cause low levels of dust and fibers to be released during installation, do not support the growth of mold, and have low levels of sensitising chemicals. However, if you have had a reaction to VOCs in the past or you know that you are sensitive to some of the chemicals that are in household furnishings, you should take sensible precautions. Avoid being present when the insulation is installed, and make sure that the area is well-ventilated. Anyone who is involved in installing insulation should use personal protective equipment, whether or not they have any sensitivities to chemicals or asthma or allergies.
What else do we certify?
We have over 50 different asthma & allergy friendly® certification standards for products and services, addressing all areas of the indoor air environment. Some of these relate to products which remove allergens and dust from indoor air, like vacuum cleaners, air cleaners, dehumidifiers, and washing machines. Some of them relate to products where it is important not to provide an easy home for allergens and that it is possible to remove allergen from them – like bedding, toys, and flooring. And some of them relate to household products that should make as little an impact on the indoor air as possible – like insulation, flooring and paint.
You can find out which products are certified asthma & allergy friendly® and read more here: www.asthmaandallergyfriendly.com
Lifestyle Article: Indoor Air Quality – Some Serious Home Truths
Sophie casts a critical eye on her own home environment and vows to make some changes…
This is the fourth episode of ‘Sophie’s quest’ a story about places where, surprisingly, air quality may not be as good as expected and brings us on a journey in pursuit of healthy air while balancing the science with everyday life.
By Lifestyle Medical Author Dr. Anna O’ Donovan
Indoor Air Quality in the Home by Dr. Anna O’Donovan, Allergy Standards
It’s Monday morning and with kids safely dispatched, Sophie leans against her closed front door and savors the quiet of the house. She’s working from home today but before she starts, she needs to spend some time focusing on the air quality in her house. All the research over the past few days has really made her think. We spend an average of 90% of our time indoors and unbelievably, indoor air can be two and half times more toxic than outdoor air so it’s a huge issue. But the good news is that Sophie’s home environment is largely under her control.
She was proud of the changes she made when Sean was initially diagnosed with asthma but in all honesty, she could do more. Immediately on learning of his diagnosis she ditched her ancient vacuum cleaner and invested in a highly effective one, certified to be effective against allergies and asthma. It has a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter which traps dust, allergens, mold, pet dander -essentially all the small particles that would have been just recirculated into the air when using her old cleaner. Vacuuming and mopping her floors twice a week has become a habit now and she was secretly pleased with herself for doing it. But she knows it’s not enough. This morning she is going to make a check list of 4 things she can change and initiate by the end of the week.
Task 1: Clean up the cleaning products
Cleaning Products, Dr. Anna O’Donovan, Allergy Standards
Under Sophie’s sink, there must be 15 bottles of cleaning products and every single one smells spring-clean delicious of pine or lemon or some other synthetic fragrance to make her home smell clean. But it’s not clean she is smelling at all -it’s chemicals. Clean doesn’t smell. These chemicals are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can cause asthma and allergies. They have also been implicated in fertility problems and cancers. It is good practice to use only the product that’s as strong as you need it to be, ditch the super strength products and use only those that clearly list their ingredients. If fragrances aren’t clearly labeled, assume they are not what you would want in your home or your lungs.
Also on the checklist is to move paints, fuels and solvents to an outside storage area – the shed is ideal – rather than the garage which is connected to the house and doesn’t have good ventilation.
Kids at a neighboring school recently had a science project whereby they learned how to make environmentally friendly cleaning products. They recycled spray bottles and following recipes from an environmental website created floor cleaner, furniture polish, air fresheners and all-purpose cleaners. This would be a great project for her own kids’ school and considering nearly half of all schools in the U.S. suffer from some sort of indoor air quality, it would be a wonderful step forward if the school adopted the use of the greener products.
Task 2: Sort through the soft toys.
A vast collection of soft toys has invaded Sophie’s house since the kids were born. Most of Sean’s now lie unused and unloved in toy boxes and on shelves where they are a perfect home for dust mites and allergens. She is planning a ruthless culling of those ones. Tara’s plush toys are still a part of the family so Sophie will hot wash and tumble dry those that will survive it. The others she will put in the freezer for 24 hours, then rinse in cold water to remove the dead mites. These toys should be vacuumed when she is vacuuming the house too.
It’s not just that toys are potential vessels for dust mite, some can release VOCs, fire retardants, phthalates and even lead. Responsible toy manufacturers thankfully now often have certification marks on labels to help parents ensure these toxins aren’t brought into the house.
Task 3: Get a hold on the mold.
It’s time to check the vents in every room and consider investing in some dehumidifiers. In this damp climate humidity can rise above 50% and this encourages the proliferation of dust mite. Ideally, humidity should be kept between 35 and 50% to will help control mold and mildew. Dryers should be vented outdoors. In bathrooms, where mold can be particularly problematic, fans need to be used, vents checked and visible mold removed with a mild cleaner. Mold is commonly found in damp spaces such as under the sink, in the refrigerator, dishwasher and the shower and of course shower curtains. Shower curtains can also ‘off gas’ so are never a good choice when considering allergy and asthma triggers.
The kids need to be reminded to always use the fan when showering so that air is circulated and moisture reduced. The shower mats need to be washed and dried fully every week. Dirty or damp clothes should not be left in a pile but should be brought straight to the laundry room. This will also reduce pollen from outdoors being spread around the house. Ask family members to wash and wipe down the sink after use rather than leave puddles of water.
Task 4: Go shopping!
Bedding, Dr. Anna O’Donovan, Allergy Standards
Sean’s bedding already has mite proof mattress and pillow covers and Sophie is pretty disciplined about washing his sheets in a hot wash once a week, but she has decided to invest for the rest of the family as well. Millions of dust mite live in our mattresses and pillows and she is pretty certain that the pillow Tara is sleeping on was her first ever pillow. Pillows should be replaced every 5 years so it’s wise buy a high quality one that will withstand frequent washing. Dust mite resistant mattress and pillow encasements will prevent mites getting into the mattresses and pillows and will stop any already present from crawling into your sleeping space. Products that have withstood rigorous testing and are certified as such are always a good investment.
Large Floor mats should be inside and outside every entrance so that the family can wipe off outdoor matter instead of traipsing it indoors. This is such a simple principle and reduces floor cleaning so is a no-brainer. Added to this, ask family to remove outdoor shoes at the entrance.
These are all easy changes and require little more than some diligence and a little work. It’s always a good idea to engage the kids in these tasks (anything to reduce the workload!) and to explain the reasons behind them. If the entire family is on board, Sophie’s goal to control her home environment thereby reducing the allergy and asthma triggers that can be dangerous to her kids will be a whole lot easier.
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Dr Anna O’Donovan
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award winning author.
Chemicals in Insulation
Cavity insulation provides an essential function in retaining heat, while also contributing to good environmental practice in the home. Good home insulation has been shown to have a positive impact on quality of life for individuals with asthma and allergies1. There are several types of insulation available, and for those with asthma and allergies, it can often be difficult to determine which type is best.
The main types of insulation are:
- Blown Mineral Fibre
- These fibres are mainly fibreglass or mineral wool that are forced into the cavity by compressed air or placed manually.
- Polystyrene Beads/Granules
- Beads made of polystyrene may be blown into the cavity using compressed air. They will stick together naturally, or may also be supplied with a light sticky resin.
- Polyurethane Foam
- Two chemicals, isocyanates and polyols, are mixed together on site prior to application to the area to be insulated2.
- Urea Formaldehyde Foam
- Urea and formaldehyde are injected and mixed simultaneously to form the foam which expands to fill the cavity.
Chemicals and their function in insulation
Required for chemical foaming action in polyurethane foam and urea formaldehyde foam
May pose health risks, including contact dermatitis, lung damage and asthma3
Required for chemical foaming action in urea formaldehyde foam
Can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation; it may cause exacerbation of asthma or cause allergic contact dermatitis4,5
Fire retardant used in polystyrene beads/granules
Detrimental impacts on liver, thyroid and reproductive organs6
Table 1. Flooring ingredient classes
Methylene bisphenyl isocyanate, is a type of isocyanate used in urea formaldehyde and polyurethane foam. It is very reactive and can be used in a range of coatings and foams. It can cause breathing difficulties, can irritate the skin and may cause skin allergy. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of isocyanates are produced every year, with methylene bisphenyl isocyanate being the most benign of this family of chemicals7.
Formaldehyde is both a naturally occurring and industrial chemical. It is used in a range of consumer products including paints, cosmetics, dry cleaning chemicals and paper products. Exposure to higher levels of formaldehyde can result in respiratory difficulties in addition to skin contact dermatitis. While skin contact with urea formaldehyde foam can be generally limited, release of formaldehyde during curing of the foam can occur. In addition, over time the foam can degrade, releasing formaldehyde into the home breathing environment8.
Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) is a brominated fire retardant; one of its main uses is in thermal insulation6. Environmental data has shown persistence of HBCDD in the environment and animal studies have demonstrated detrimental impacts on liver, thyroid and reproductive organs. In 2016 the European Union implemented a ban on HBCDD, and the EPA is currently reviewing this chemical9. However even if a global ban is implemented, this would be phased, meaning that HBCDD could remain in use for many more years.
Benefits of Home Insulation
Home insulation has been shown to have positive benefits for both the environment and human health10. Less energy is required to heat the home leading to positive environmental impacts. Dust mites and mold require relative humidity levels in excess of 55% in order to be able to flourish. Effective insulation leads to more effective control of the indoor environment, reducing relative humidity and damp conditions.
The selection of an insulation product must be made carefully. Spray polyurethane foam has been shown to induce asthma11,12. Formaldehyde, while an economically important chemical, is also classified as a human carcinogen. Sixty-five percent of formaldehyde produced globally is used in resins such as urea formaldehyde, phenol formaldehyde and melamine formaldehyde and these are often used in the construction sector13.
While mineral fibres are not classified as a skin irritant, it may cause some temporary skin itching due to its physical structure. For this reason, you should wear appropriate protective equipment when handling mineral fibre insulation14. In addition, appropriate respiratory masks should be worn by anyone installing mineral fibres – the particle size of these fibres can be small enough to reach the lung and may be cancerous. If leaks are present in home heating systems, it may also be possible for these particles to be distributed around the home.
Due to the flammability of polystyrene, any insulation made from this material will contain fire retardants. These fire retardants, such as HBCDD, can cause risk to health through inhalation, and are listed by the European Union as a ‘substance of very high concern’15.
It is easy to see how the home environment is becoming more and more of a problem for those suffering from asthma and allergies16.
The importance of insulation selection
A recent tragedy in England highlighted the importance of selecting the right insulation. The Grenfell Tower residential block caught fire following a fridge freezer malfunction. The cladding on the exterior of the building used a polyethylene core, covered by aluminium. While this should have been sufficient, once the polyethylene ignited, the fire escalated rapidly and 72 people lost their lives. Mineral fibres, while capable of catching fire, burn much more slowly and can give valuable time for people to exit the building17.
What insulation should you select?
Insulation plays an important role in the home in creating a comfortable warm environment, which has positive health impacts1. This should be balanced against the potentially harmful effects that it may have. Mineral fibres may have a detrimental impact due to their particle size and polystyrene beads, urea formaldehyde and polyurethane foam may have a detrimental chemical impact. What you should determine is how much each of these may affect you, and how likely it is to happen. Certification marks can play a role here in providing independent testing on insulation.
How do you identify healthier insulation products?
Greenguard certification is primarily focussed on promoting healthier indoor environments and was first established to assist EPA purchasing decisions. Certification for insulation is as part of the building materials certification standard and focusses predominantly on chemical emissions, including VOCs and formaldehyde18.
Green Seal logo
Green Seal certification is based on architectural insulation materials and certifies products that meet their standard. There are five main testing areas within the standards and these include: reducing global warming impacts by using low GWP blowing agents; reducing waste through the use of recycled materials; protecting human health by meeting chemicals limit levels; demonstrating stewardship through reduction of hazards on installation and having an effective performance19.
asthma & allergy friendly® logo
asthma & allergy friendly®
The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is operated by Allergy Standards Ltd in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Asthma Canada (AC) and is also operated internationally through a global certification mark. Insulation is tested against specific parameters relevant for healthy indoor air, these include constituent review, evaluation of release of airborne particles during installation and disturbance, evaluation of insulation’s ability to support fungal growth and VOC emission testing20.
What should you do next?
Insulation is not something that is immediately obvious in the home, for the most part it should be safely sealed within the home. However under certain conditions, chemicals and physical particles can be distributed around the home.
- Be familiar with triggers for your asthma or allergies and select an insulation product accordingly
- If you are going to instal the insulation yourself, ensure that you use the proper protective equipment
- If you choose insulating foam, ensure that you remain out of the home environment until it has cured appropriately
- If you choose mineral fibres for insulation, try to ensure that they have been tested for particle release in the home
- Chemicals used in insulation can be quite harsh, they are used because they are effective. Balance your need for insulation and the health benefits gained from this, against use and exposure to these chemicals
- Where appropriate, use Certification marks to guide your selection.
The most important thing is to educate yourself – you need to take personal responsibility for your allergies or sensitivities to chemicals. Understand what you react to and take steps to avoid it. If you wish to use certification marks as signposts for products that are more suitable for you, make sure that you understand what their certification is based on.
About the author
Dr. Tim Yeomans photo
Thanks to Dr. Tim Yeomans for this insightful article.
Dr. Tim Yeomans is the Centre Manager for Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, a collaboration between two third level colleges in Ireland. Tim holds a PhD in Microbiology and postgraduate qualifications in Technology Commercialisation and Innovation Management. Tim has worked in research and development for 20 years, both in industry and academia. In his role in Shannon ABC, Tim is responsible for the scientific direction of the Centre, intellectual property management and business and technology development.
16 June 2023
ASL had a hugely successful few days at NeoCon and Design Days 2023 in Chicago
2 June 2023
We are looking forward to bringing our expertise in indoor air quality to NeoCon this month to help shape the built environment today and into the future.
1 June 2023
ASL is excited to share the results of our new research on textile flooring at the EAACI Congress 2023
17 May 2023
Dr. John Ryan, CSO at ASL, addressed the Importance of indoor air quality and ESG needs in his impactful keynote speech at Pulire 2023
5 May 2023
Dr. John Ryan will speak at ISSA Pulire 2023 with a talk entitled 'Cleaning For Purpose Not Just Appearance.'
25 April 2023
BAU 2023 was a great opportunity for ASL to bring their expertise in indoor air quality to Europe, meet new clients, and catch up with Tarkett at their busy booth
16 December 2021
Dr. John McKeon, CEO of Allergy Standards, gives expert advice on tracking home health and why it makes perfect sense
28 October 2021
Many people can be allergic to dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens that can build up in bedding, clothes, and other washable items at home. Taking care of these items by washing them regularly is a fundamental part of maintaining a healthy home environment.
14 October 2021
In this NBC News article, digital editorial intern for Select, Zoe Malin seeks expert advice from ASL CEO, Dr. John McKeon, on indoor air quality and air cleaners.
23 August 2021
Watch our CEO Dr John McKeon and President & CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Kenneth Mendez, on Healthy Indoors Live with Bob Krell for a very interesting dive into the significant role a healthy indoor environment plays in our overall health & well-being.