The chemicals are found in spray polyurethane foam, an effective and widely used insulation and air sealant material for insulating walls, sealing concrete or finishing floors.
Exposures to isocyanates such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, and other SPF chemicals in vapors, aerosols, and dust during and after installation can cause adverse health effects, the agency warns.
"There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
Diisocyanates are known to cause severe skin and breathing responses in workers who have been repeatedly exposed to them. The chemicals have been documented as a leading cause of work-related asthma, and in severe cases, fatal reactions have occurred, the EPA says.
The EPA Wednesday released action plans identifying a range of actions the agency is considering under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act to address the health risks, including a possible ban on the "uncured" type of diisocyanates.
The agency also is considering issuing rules to call in data on any past allegations of significant adverse effects, obtaining unpublished health and safety data from industry sources, and requiring exposure monitoring studies for consumer products.
"EPA is working to protect the health of the American people and the environment," Owens said.
In a protective suit, a worker sprays polyurethane foam insulation on a wall. (Photo courtesy EPA)
Diisocyanates are used to make polyurethane polymers. Most polyurethane products, such as foam mattresses or bowling balls, are fully reacted or "cured," and are not of concern.
Some products, however, such as adhesives, coatings, and spray foam, continue to react while in use, and may contain "uncured" diisocyanates to which people may be exposed, Owens said.
To protect worker health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates workplace exposures through permissible exposure limits.
But there is very limited information available about the use and exposure patterns of consumers to products that contain uncured diisocyanates.
Owens says the EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, the polyurethanes industry, and others to ensure improved labeling and provide comprehensive product safety information for polyurethane products containing uncured compounds, especially in consumer products.
The EPA gives some quick safety tips for spray polyurethane foam exposure. Whether you are an applicator, helper, or building occupant where this product is applied, the agency says follow these tips:
"Some manufacturers estimate that it can take approximately 23-72 hours after application for the foam to fully cure for the two-component high pressure 'professional' SPF system, and approximately 8 to 24 hours to cure for one component foam, typically available in 12 oz. to 24 oz. cans," but the agency says more research is needed to account for the potential variability of curing rates.
Click here for a detailed EPA fact sheet on diisocyanates.
Click here for more information on these and other chemical action plans.
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