UREA FORMALDEHYDE FOAM INSULATION
The purpose of this paper is to provide home owners and home buyers with the facts, and some guidance, concerning the use and safety of urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI).
Ambient formaldehyde levels in houses are typically .03 to .04 parts per million. By comparison, typical levels in the smoking section of a cafeteria are 0.16 ppm. Houses with new carpeting can also reach these levels.
The rate at which formaldehyde gasses are released from materials into the air depends on temperature and humidity. The higher the humidity levels and the higher the temperature, the more gas is likely to be released.
When Was Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation Used?
In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of UFFI in the United States in 1982, and shortly thereafter a law prohibiting the sale of urea formaldehyde was enacted. In April 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeal struck down the law because there was no substantial evidence clearly linking UFFI to health complaints. UFFI is not widely used in the USA today.
Who Installed It?
What Caused The Controversy?
In the case of UFFI, the uneasiness and uncertainty were especially difficult to fathom or control, since the material was hidden from sight, and the reported symptoms were identical to those often experienced in our heated, dry indoor air.
Although there were no substantiated problems clearly attributable to the foam, urea formaldehyde foam insulation was banned as a precautionary measure. Research was initiated to evaluate the problem, and to determine what should be done.
No one knew exactly how many homes had UFFI, and it was often difficult to find out whether a home had UFFI. The problem was further complicated by the fact that the foam was often used somewhat inappropriately in walls of solid masonry houses, in attics, in cavities where freeze-up of pipes had occurred, and even as an acoustical insulation in party walls in row houses, and in the ceilings between the first and second floor of the house.
The fears of cancer and other health problems were only the beginning of the story. These fears caused a reduction in the value of real estate. The costly "remedial" measures and the long term stigma attached to UFFI houses became a marketplace reality because of the perceived health problems.
The federal government set guidelines for reducing formaldehyde levels in houses, and removal techniques were specified. The initial threshold level set for formaldehyde gas was 1.0 part per million (ppm). As testing methods improved, the level was brought down to 0.5 ppm and, eventually, 0.1 ppm. The threshold level became very conservative, indeed.
A court case which eventually set records was initiated in Quebec, in which the claimants accused the federal government, manufacturers and others of bringing a dangerous material to the market.
An Interesting Twist
As the body of information grew, it became clear that finding a single house that exceeded this very conservative threshold level was going to be a challenge. In fact, in reviewing several thousand files, not one house was found with levels of formaldehyde which remained above 0.1 ppm! The highest levels were found in homes with brand new carpeting which were tested on a hot summer day. The same house tested two weeks later showed levels typical of any house, with or without UFFI.
The presence of UFFI does not affect the amount of formaldehyde in the indoor air. Indeed, while not statistically significant, the homes tested were found, on average, to have formaldehyde levels slightly below that of homes of similar ages without UFFI.
In a study in Britain, people who worked in environments with high formaldehyde levels, such as morticians and laboratory technicians, were studied for possible health effects. These subjects were found to have a less than average number of respiratory diseases, and actually lived slightly longer on average, on the whole. (Again, while this may not be statistically significant, it suggests that low levels of formaldehyde are not harmful.)
A number of studies have been done examining the health effects of UFFI. Studies using random samples of UFFI and non-UFFI homes done before the ban showed no impact of UFFI on health. However, studies done after the ban showed increased reporting of symptoms, even for such things as constipation and deafness which have no biological basis.
When no correlation could be found between formaldehyde gas and health problems, other possible problems related to UFFI were investigated. Mould and fungi, dust mites, and un-named "UFFI gases" were all investigated as possibilities. None were linked to UFFI. There was no damage to house framing or materials caused by UFFI.
It is not the purpose of this paper to determine why or how all of this controversy arose without any proof. Suffice to say that people with the best intentions were working in the public interest, and perhaps erred on the conservative side. In retrospect, although the results were unfortunate, we would hate to think that people responsible for the health of consumers would err on the other side.
We believe that those who have urea formaldehyde foam insulation in their homes should enjoy their houses, and sleep well at night. It is the sincere hope of the authors that the market place will respond appropriately. The owners of properties with this type of insulation should not be penalized financially, and no stigma should be attached to these homes. We would further urge real estate associations and boards across Canada to consider dropping the UFFI clause from purchase contracts. Similarly, we would ask mortgage lenders not to penalize those who have UFFI in their homes. UFFI is simply not the problem it was once feared to be.
Development Of A Canadian Standard For Urea Formaldehyde Thermal Wall Insulation
Building Practice Note #19 - Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation
Building Practice Note #23 - Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation
Exposure To High Concentration Of Formaldehyde. A Case Study
Mr. Bob Platts - Canada Consultants Limited - Ottawa, Ontario
Dr. Geoffrey Norman - Department
of Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics
Warning On Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation
An Update On Formaldehyde
Builder's Note #3 - Formaldehyde
Millions To Remove Urea Foam, But Health Risk Still Unknown
Consumer and Corporate
Affairs Canada (UFFI Centrex)
Home Owners With Urea - Foam Insulation Lose Civil Suit For Damages
Dropping The UFFI Clause: What Are Members Bound To Do?
House Buyers Find UFFI, But Only Get $100 Damages From B.C. Judge
Comparison of Health of Occupants and Characteristics of Houses Among Controlled
Homes and Homes
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