Newer homes are remarkably energy tight thanks to superior insulating materials that are in wide circulation today. The energy savings can be substantial – homeowners can use up to 60% less energy in the most efficient green homes. Now, a study published by a team of researchers in Building Research & Information makes it clear that the very materials that provide us with such energy efficiency are pumped full of harmful flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals, HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) and TCPP (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate, are related to banned and phased-out substances like DDT, pentaBDE, and Tris. They are environmentally persistent, bioaccumulative, and are being manufactured at a frenetic pace without thought to how they might impact our environment and ultimately, our health.

The study focuses on foam insulation material: the spray-foam insulation you may have applied to fill a leaky attic as well as foam board insulation popular in green buildings for its excellent insulating properties. These materials are regularly treated with the flame retardants HBCD and TCPP to meet building standards for fire safety. But building codes do not specifically require the addition of flame retardants to foam insulation and the study shows that the presence of ½” thick drywall itself is enough to provide fire safety for many uses. So why are they being added at extra expense to manufacturers and unknown risk to us? …

Kalliopi Monoyios