From Green to Homeless: One Man’s Battles with SPF Insulation

James Vallette | June 20, 2013 | Materials

Richard Beyer of East Lyme, Connecticut, provides a great example of how one person can change the building industry (with a little help from the Pharos Project).

After a bad spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation installation sickened him and his family, Mr. Beyer researched these products on Pharos.

As we have been reporting since 2010, SPF insulation manufacturing occurs in people’s homes and offices. One part – isocyanates – is reacted with a second part containing a mixture of catalysts, flame retardants, and other chemicals. As is routine in this industry, the SPF manufacturer refuses to disclose what was in the second part of the concoction installed at Mr. Beyer's home.

After fruitless discussions with SPF companies and regulators, he convinced his representative, Rep. Ed Jutila, to introduce legislation to establish new safety standards.  Rep. Jutila praised Mr. Beyer’s initiative. "My constituent has done a tremendous amount of research on the spray foam insulation industry, and he is passionate about the need for regulation," he said.

The Connecticut House and Senate unanimously passed the bill. But last week, Gov. Dannel Malloy vetoed it, citing, in part, the existence of certification programs developed by the American Chemistry Council.

– Jim V., 20 June 2013


My home is no place for a chemical factory

by Richard Beyer (Guest blog)

A few years ago, I started taking Benadryl so I could sleep at night.  I could not sleep because my skin felt like it was on fire. I suffered major headaches, heart palpitations and breathing problems.

These symptoms began after we hired a company to manufacturer spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation in our house.  The installation failed badly.

Industry standards say their product is supposed to become “inert” after installation.  This was not the case in my home.  The SPF insulation emitted noxious odors and gases, shrunk, cracked, disappeared and literally exploded in the middle of the night.  It never stopped off-gassing.

Problems escalated from bad to worse.  I started investigating the products more.  What I found was extremely disturbing.

The manufacturer told me “there are no published standards for the home, only the workplace.”  After many rounds of runarounds and finger pointing with the installation company and their chemical suppliers, I had enough.

I filed complaints with the Connecticut Dept. of Consumer Protection and they sent me to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission. CPSC sent me to OSHA.  OSHA sent me to the EPA.  EPA sent me to the back to the Dept. of Consumer Protection. And on and on it went.

No one agency knows who does what or what to do when problems arise from failed polyurethane foam insulation.  After one of my telephone conversations with a state employee, I found that she wrote in her notes, “These complaints will never materialize into an investigation.”

Absent agency investigations, I started pushing for change through legislation.  I testified before the state legislature’s General Law Committee. I told them:

Citizens of Connecticut and across this country need our government to step up and stop these chemical companies from poisoning our families in the name of the dollar. Through the American Chemistry Council web site, these chemical companies claim that the chemicals used in SPF are heavily regulated by OSHA and the EPA. I am here to report to you this is simply not the case when we speak about your home and the air quality that is created after the products are installed.

This is the only building product where your home is the chemical manufacturing site.  Every other building product in your home was manufactured in a controlled factory setting. 

There are no published scientific data that prove these insulations products are ‘safe’ when installed onsite.  There are no mandated licensing or training procedures. There are no air quality standards for the home. 

In response, the General Law Committee approved House Bill 5908, An Act Concerning Safety and Certification Standards for the Spray Foam Insulation Industry. The bill then passed the House and Senate, unanimously.

Last week, Gov. Dannel Malloy vetoed Bill 5908. This was his first veto of 2013. He said existing voluntary programs from the ACC and the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance are more “practical.”  He said these programs would not result in “unnecessary expense to the state.”

I was shocked. Every single state legislator agreed that consumers need protection from this industry’s worst current practices. But the governor is telling us to trust companies that failed to protect us. 

SPF installations are failing across the country. More and more people are having issues.

Some federal agencies recognize that far too little is known about the risks of SPF application.  Half of the mix – the amine catalysts, the blowing agents, the flame retardants – are “a chemical question mark with no toxicology or health information,” according to a March 2013 article published by the US Centers for Disease Control. “It’s difficult for even the most conscientious employers to protect their workers because limited data exist on the second part of the spray foam mixture.“ (emphasis added)

As long as there are no third party oversight procedures by industry and law, as long as there remains this gaping void of scientific understanding of even the composition of the systems, consumers are left to fend for ourselves in dealing with the aftermath.

I'm not giving up. Installers want me to keep pushing for regulations, to protect them and their customers.  I’ve asked the legislature to overturn the veto, but the session ends this month.

Pharos Signal readers should know this, if they are interested in SPF insulation for their buildings: they should require, at minimum, that installers carry “contractors pollution liability insurance.” Most SPF installers only carry general liability insurance – the same that a carpenter or roofer would have. These policies do not cover consumers for faulty workmanship and gas relating to these chemicals.

At the very least, the corporations that manufacture the raw materials should mandate that all installers who use their chemicals carry this policy. 

This simple step can stop consumers from going "green" to going homeless.

For further information:

Mr. Beyer can be reached by phone at 860-460-5434 and by email.

Jon Lender, "Malloy Vetoes First Bill of 2013; Would Have Required Regulations And Safety/Certification Standards  For Spray Foam Insulation," Hartford Courant, June 10, 2013.

Mark Pazniokas, "Malloy's first veto of 2013 is consumer bill on foam insulation," Connecticut Mirror, June 10, 2013.