To make foam, a number of chemicals are mixed and a “gassing agent” is added that creates bubbles that make the plastic cellular. The main chemical in foam is called Polyurethane, which is “a polymer consisting of a chain of organic units joined by urethane (carbamate) links.” Polyurethanes are widely used in flexible foam seating, upholstery, bedding, rigid foam insulation panels, thermal insulation, microcellular foam seals and gaskets, high performance adhesives and sealants, spandex fibers, carpet underlay, and hard plastic parts just to name a few!
This chemical is also found in many finishes which have been linked to cancer, respiratory conditions, allergic reactions, reproductive disorders and other serious health problems. This chemical is also highly flammable. It has caused many states to outlaw the use of oil-based polyurethanes because of the severe health risks that it poses and its contribution to the air pollution problem. The fumes from this chemical are released into homes, up to a month after oil-based finishes are applied. These fumes can lead to many health problems due to the off-gassing from Polyurethanes, especially with the mixture of formaldehyde, which is the combination within many types of foams in a home.
UFFI or Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation was used in the 1970’s as a retrofit product. This expanding foam insulation was mixed on-site and pumped into the walls or cavities within a building. Earlier research on the carcinogenic effect of UFFI suggested that formaldehyde off-gassing from the UFF insulation put people at a significant cancer risk. However it is a controversial topic after additional research was done, due to the fact that it depended on how the foam product was mixed at the site and how the formaldehyde levels differed from building to building. The off-gassing from the UFFI declined steadily with age, due to the open-cell foam not retaining the gases long term. People hypersensitive to chemicals and some people with other respiratory illnesses seem to lose a reaction to this material in time; however the study is complicated by the fact that high levels of formaldehyde off-gassing also occur from some furniture padding and glues or finishes used in chipboard cabinets or sub flooring. So how could they properly test where the reactions were coming from?
Another reason why you should know about the foams within your home is a study found high levels of toxic fire retardants in women’s breast milk, which has increased 200 times, the highest in the world: 10 to 20 times higher than Europe records. US and Canada together account for almost half of global PBDE use. PBDEs are fire retardant chemicals used in soft polyurethane foam, and are found in furniture, textiles and carpets as well as in hard plastic, computers, home appliances and dashboards. Animal testing research shows that exposure to PBDEs are linked to thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairments, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, behavioural changes, hearing deficits and possible cancers. Studies say that the fire retardant chemical is also showing up in house dust, sewage sludge, water sediment within rivers and oceans. Which lead to a study that found the chemical showing up in tissues of whales, seals, birds and even their eggs along with dozens of freshwater species and marine fish? This chemical accumulates in humans and animals and injures the central nervous system. This compound truly is an environmental nightmare!
With more information constantly evolving on how harmful these chemicals can be, people are wisely turning to green products and with the green demand comes more green alternatives. What a better way to make a movement then within your own home. With the advent of new technology, there are now products available that will help keep the environment healthier without having to compromise your own comfort.One product for your home that has recently gone green is BioBased insulation. The insulations is made from soy bean oil, with is produced by over 600,000 farmers in the U.S. It is a raw material which replaces the petroleum ingredients, and helps reduce the countries dependence on fossil fuels making this BioBased insulation more environmentally responsible. This insulation contains no harmful and irritating micro fibers. BioBased insulations continuously create an air barrier within a home or structure to block mold, pollen, and other allergens from entering. The insulation creates an air tight seal for a more energy efficient home and healthier environment.
Another product, furniture and bedding companies are becoming greener with their foams. They are turning to soy blend foam made with BiOH polyols, which are the soy-based ingredient used for flexible foam in upholstery pieces like furniture, bedding, carpet backing and automotive seats. The technology of BiOh polyol has allowed products to have 20% more renewable content within them. Only 3 years ago all of these products were 100% petroleum-based. Cargill innovators of BiOH polyols states "for every 1 million lbs of BiOH polyols that replace traditional petro polyols in foam cushioning, approximately 2200 barrels of crude petroleum is saved for other uses." This has a significant impact on our environment and our health. BiOh polyols has a 36% less global warming emissions, 61% less non-renewable energy use and total energy demanded is 23% less.
While many of these new green products are an investment, in the future the environmental concern will pay off and hopefully many health problems will become extinct as our homes become friendlier with a lack of air pollutant chemicals in them. The green movement is a cause that should not be looked upon lightly for the health risk should be reason enough to change the way of our lifestyle. A movement might start with just a small step but as one moves, the steps get bigger and stronger and before everyone knows it the world is moving together towards a greener conscience existences!
Stay green and until next time,
Jo Alcorn, w&c designer girl!