A Huge Success for Healthier Buildings

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Blog by Joe Charbonnet

On January 16, the California Building Standards Commission voted unanimously to update the state’s building codes to allow below-grade use of foam plastic building insulation without flame retardants. Building insulation–where there is no fire safety benefit–is one of the largest uses of toxic flame retardants.

This hard-won victory, after a decade of work, is a beginning step towards flame retardant-free building insulation. The proposal, submitted to the Commission by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, benefited from the support of 24 eloquent speakers, both present at the hearing and calling in from around the country (see list below).

This code change proposal began with our 2012 peer-reviewed scientific paper demonstrating the health harm and lack of fire safety benefit of flame retardants in foam plastic building insulation. Based on our paper, in 2013 Nancy Skinner authored and passed Assembly Bill 127, authorizing the State Fire Marshal to allow the use of flame retardant free building insulation where the chemicals do not provide a fire safety benefit. A working group and fire research testing followed over the last five years.

As a result of this 7-0 decision, California builders and architects will now be free to choose flame retardant-free insulation for use below the concrete foundations of buildings and residences.

Special thanks to the Green Science Policy Staff that have led this work throughout its path to adoption: Veena Singla, Avery Lindeman, and Swati Rayasam.

A similar code change proposal has been submitted by the fire science engineering firm Reax Engineering to the International Code Council in for consideration at their May meeting in Albuquerque.

Speakers in Support of Office of the State Fire Marshal’s Insulation Proposal
January 16, 2019

1.     Arlene Blum PhD          (Green Science Policy Institute)
2.     Nancy Skinner               (California State Senate; AB 127 Sponsor)
3.     Don Lucas PhD             (Berkeley National Lab, retired)
4.     Phana La Marr               (Bureau of Household Goods and Services, formerly BEARHFTI)
5.     David Rich PhD             (Reax Engineering)
6.     Megan Kalsman            (City of San Francisco Department of the Environment)
7.     Kat Scott                        (California Hospital Association)
8.     Marjorie Smith               (Siegel and Strain/American Institute of Architects, San Francisco)
9.     Suzanne Drake              (Perkins + Will)
10.  Martin Hammer               (Martin Hammer Architect)
11.  Clark Rendall                  (Troon Pacific)
12.  Paul Wermer                   (Paul Wermer Sustainability Consulting)
13.  Ernie Pacheco                (Communication Workers of America)
14.  Bill Allayaud                   (Environmental Working Group)
15.  Mark Christian                (American Institute of Architects, California Council)
16.  Joe Charbonnet PhD     (Green Science Policy Institute)

Call-in: Michael Lipsett          (Chief, Environmental Health Investigations Branch, California Dept. of Public Health, retired)
Call-in: Adam Wood               (San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation)
Call-in: Jay Fleming               (Boston Fire Department, Deputy Chief
Call-in: Bill Kelley                   (Marin CountyCounty Building Officials Association of California; California Building Officials)
Call-in: Avery Lindeman        (former Green Science Policy Institute)
Call-in: Wes Sullens               (US Green Building Council)
Call-in: Mark Leno                  (California State Senate, retired)
Call-in: Vyto Babrauskas PhD (Fire Science &Technology Inc.)

Safer insulation supporters at the Building Standards Commission hearing. L-R: Paul Wermer, Martin Hammer, Arlene Blum, David Rich, Don Lucas, Marjorie Smith, and Phana La Marr.

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