Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown directed state agencies to reduce water use and greenhouse gas emissions through a green building action plan to “shrink the state’s environmental footprint.” The order also mandated using “environmentally preferable products that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing goods that serve the same purpose.”

Just seven months later, a study in Building Research and Information revealed that plastic foam insulation used to increase energy efficiency in buildings may pose an unnecessary risk to health and the environment. Manufacturers add potentially harmful fire-retardant chemicals to insulation to pass a flammability test required in building codes. But the test isn’t reliable for foam plastic insulation, argued fire scientist Vytenis Babrauskas and his colleagues. And the codes’ requirement for a thermal barrier – a thick wallboard that separates the insulation from a room’s interior – already makes insulation fire-safe without the need for flame retardants…

Liza Gross