This post is an informational post to help advise you and your workers from falling victim to the misleading beliefs of so many in the construction field. Homeowners are also at risk.

Published: December, 2014; Vol 11, Num 7
Laborer's Health & Safety Fund

"The Dangers of Using Spray Foam Insulation"

In recent years, spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation has become increasingly popular in both residential and commercial construction. More energy efficient than traditional fiberglass insulation, SPF insulation is used to create a moisture and vapor barrier in perimeter walls, crawl spaces and attics.

However, despite claims from manufacturers that SPF is “green” or “environmentally friendly,” the same can’t be said of its effects on workers. SPF insulation contains chemicals called isocyanates that can cause skin and lung sensitization as well as irritation to the skin and mucous membranes like the eyes. Sensitization means that workers can develop an allergy to a certain chemical after being exposed to it. Once sensitized, workers can quickly develop asthma, even if they have never had symptoms before. The following symptoms can appear during or immediately after exposure to isocyanates:

  • Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing
  • Irritation of the eyes and lungs
  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Tightness in the chest

Once the lungs or skins are sensitized, it’s possible for symptoms of asthma to be triggered by exposure to everyday substances such as dust or cold air. It’s estimated that between 15-30 percent of asthma in adults is caused by occupational exposures. Isocyanates have been reported as the leading chemical cause of work-related asthma.

Workers are most commonly exposed to isocyanates in SPF by breathing them in or getting them on their skin during the installation process. Until polyurethane products such as spray foam harden or cure completely, they can still release isocyanates. Once cured, polyurethane products can release isocyanates if they are heated, burned, cut or abraded. Workers should also be aware that isocyanate exposures can occur from adjacent areas – the harmful chemicals in SPF have been shown to travel throughout large buildings during installation.

Working Safely Around Isocyanates

Controlling and eliminating on-the-job exposures to chemical sensitizers such as isocyanates requires putting the proper protections in place. Employers should consult the safety data sheet (SDS) for any product that could contain isocyanates and find safer substitutes if possible. Barring that, employers can use ventilation to reduce the concentration of isocyanates in the air, restrict access to areas where isocyanates are present and provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Workers using products containing isocyanates should wear the following PPE to protect themselves from exposure:

  • Cover all exposed skin by wearing a disposable dust suit
  • Wear neoprene, nitrile or butyl rubber gloves
  • Wear chemical safety goggles to protect the eyes
  • Use a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) when isocyanate-containing materials are being heated or sprayed

When using respirators to protect against exposure, always use an organic vapor cartridge and change it regularly. Because isocyanates are odorless and colorless, they don’t present warning properties to alert workers of exposure. NIOSH has documented several case studies of workers who have died from acute exposure to isocyanates.

What to Do If You’ve Been Exposed to Isocyanates

Developing work-related asthma could make working on some kinds of job sites difficult – jeopardizing or cutting short a career in the construction industry. Permanent asthma can develop as quickly as a few hours after exposure to isocyanates depending on the level of exposure and an individual’s sensitivity. If you think you may have work-related asthma, see your doctor as soon as possible. Bring copies of any available safety data sheets along with this OSHA factsheet, which was designed to be shared with your health care provider.

For further information on isocyanates, visit OSHA’s Isocyanates page. California’s Department of Public Health created this guide about work-related asthma, which includes information on isocyanate exposures in other industries such as construction, hospital work and custodial work.

[Nick Fox]

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There are things in here I do not think are true.  I have used spray foam consistently since 1993 and have not had anyone become sensitized on first exposure as indicated here.  In the past 3 years EPA, not OSHA, in conjunction with NIOSH and industry groups like manufacturers, CPI, and SPFA have come out with more specific directives and guidance for handling SPF.  That information is available at  It does include more involved PPE than we used in the 90's, and directions for ventilation and re-occupancy.  On that site, you can find training on proper handling of SPF and its components that is free.  it is a required, bi-annually renewed training for installers.  There are different trainings for 'high pressure' (truck type), and low pressure (canisters) foam systems. 

The thing missing in this statement is that all polyurethane foam, open or closed cell, from a truck style rig or the 2 part canister systems or single part foam from an aerosol can have Polymeric MDI in them.   If it is polyurethane, it has MDI.  Polyurethane adhesives like Gorilla Glue have MDI.  Base coat/clear court polyurethane paint systems have MDI.  if it says Polyurethane, it has MDI.  Different manufacturers use different components to make their resins.  The MDI is in the hardener side, not the resin.  no matter how 'green' or 'environmentally friendly' the foam is, it will have MDI in it. 

Early on in my time using foam, we had 2 individuals who became sensitized to one degree or another.  On each occasion, the individual didn't know what was going on initially and didn't tell me what he was feeling.  In one instance, the man didn't show up for work twice and when I finally got him to tell me why, he said he had tightness in his chest at night.  I gave him an MSDS for iso and asked him to show it to his Dr.  he did, and the Dr told him to leave this job.  He did, and is fine now, 20 years later.   Another man came to me with a previous history of Asthma, which he didn't tell me about.  He worked here nearly 10 years, then left saying he could feel his chest reacting to ISO when he pulled in my driveway to go to work.  He too is fine to this day. 

I also have twice had NYS Dept of Health send an Industrial Hygienist to come to my worksite and do air monitoring for MDI at my request.  Once in the mid 90's and again around 2006.  The OSHA PEL for MDI was 5 PPB (parts per Billion) at the time.  We were under that limit inside the truck while the truck was installing foam, and inside the building during spray ops on the collector the sprayer was wearing.    The Hygienist said 'don't assume you don't need PPE because you are under the limit, you do. The effects of MDI are cumulative, just like smoking cigarettes.  One will not harm you, but eventually you will be harmed if you don't protect yourself'. 

One last thing is to look at the source when you see this kind of post.  Who does the author work for and what is his or her motivation for making the statements.  This comes from my observation of past discussions of fiberglass vs cellulose that end up looking a lot like two rednecks arguing the merits of Ford or Chevy. 

Pat the publication is written by "Laborer's Health & Safety Fund."

I'm fairly confident the "Union" has completed their homework to avoid worker hazards and liability. Just my opinion. 

If we are concerned with workers, then OSHA applies. If we are concerned with the occupant and the general public, then EPA applies. Isocyanates have a long history (20+ years, polyurethane paints) of problems in the auto body industry, for spray painters as well as other workers at auto body shops.

OSHA asked SPFA to get it done without them for some reason.  EPA & NIOSH both represent people. it doesn't matter to me if those people are workers or occupants. 

Don, I say this with respect... Part of your statement is not accurate. "If we are concerned with the occupant and the general public, then EPA applies."

EPA does not have jurisdiction inside a private residence. EPA's jurisdiction start's when you blow hazards outside your window and into the air or interfere with water ways running through your property.


Again with respect... Your comments are not accurate. "OSHA asked SPFA to get it done without them for some reason" Your other responses are addressed above.. I hope this helps you all understand consumers do not have any over site when things go wrong with these products forcing consumers to seek legal help when installation firms refuse to own up to their errors. All protections are in place for workers only.

OSHA has stepped up enforcement in cooperation with SPFA and other task force members. It's not left solely up to SPFA because it's not only the SPFI industry which is affected as shown here...

July 02, 2013 OSHA announces isocyanate emphasis program

OSHA Safety & Health..

Do you have work related Asthma? A guide for your doctor....

There is a group task force effort established @2009 between the ACC, CPI, SPFA, CPSC, CDC, NIOSH, OSHA and the EPA. This task force was established due to installer exposure and the unknowns surrounding polyurethane use. SPFA is a private non-profit trade group. They are not an enforcer of government policy. SPFA enters into agreements with it's members. They over see their members through a contractual mutual agreement. No one is mandated to become a SPFA member. It is strictly a volunteer basis.

The problems will surface soon enough . Why don't we take a second look at this over rated product

If you haven't followed the discussions on Linked In.  This is the Third Forum Mr. Beyer has posted this article. He is the plaintiff in a law suit against a spray foam job.  So when you ask any questions about this he will cited the pending lawsuit and not divulge any information. 

He needs a Certified Industrial Hygienst. Not us.

Hello Don and everyone else,

John has been warned to stop his nonsense for trolling blogs and not offering solutions to his own responses. This makes one more.

In case John had not noticed, this is an informational link. It is NOT a request for assistance and it is no place for bickering. Move on John unless you can learn how to behave yourself and stop making defamatory comments.

Richard can either live with my comments or provide the list owner name and the list where I was told to stop trolling.  There is nothing wrong with placing the same post on multiple sites.  It becomes that when the advice offered in good faith is rejected. When the OP starts pointing fingers at those who disagree. 

If this fits, Richard can wear it.  If it doesn't fit,  those reading these posts will make me wear it.  Richard's comments will not make much difference.

Actually I got to say this helps explain your seemingly recent anti-foam crusade. In all reality, everything you have pointed to is an issue with people not following directions - wrong mix, sprayed to much, not wearing gear, etc... That is one reason why many of the spray foam companies insisted on training up front before a company could start to sell their products, i.e. to help prevent this. Unfortunately they have no control after the fact and it revolves around the business owner & employees to use their heads.

For my .02, you should state your why you are posting so others don't feel the need to & yes being involved in a lawsuit regarding a product is a big one. As a further caution, if you are not careful it can really bite you - don't believe me, check with your lawyer


I respect your opinion. As for your statement that "spray foam companies insisted on training", did you know this training is 3-5 days? What spray foam companies are you speaking of? Would you allow a guy to frame a house after 3-5 days of training? Nothing I say is going to change what already happened and I'm not worried about anything biting me. Bringing attention to the fact failures are occuring and that training is a necessity causes no harm to me. It will to the person or family who hires an SPFI technician who does not have the experience or even a contractor like yourself.  


Unlike the few who enjoy stirring up the bee hive ...... I'm actually doing something about the issues regarding faulty installations for everyones protection. If this bites be it! It does not change the fact that their are a lot of wreckless cowboys spraying foam, even today. As for lawyers, I don't hide anything I'm doing, unlike others. I do not plan to stop publishing the hazards anytime soon. 

My goal is to bring awareness and make training mandatory for all installers and for them to prove they have been trained before they are allowed in private homes, as well as prove they are properly insured. I do not think the public will disagree with this. See below.. 


Malloy’s first veto of 2013 is consumer bill on foam insulation

1. HB5908 Vetoed by the Governor even after unanimous votes to pass


To protect the health and safety of spray foam insulation installers and their customers.

SPFA and My testimony in 2013

UNANIMOUS VOTES TO PASS between the House and Senate

"2014" HB05100

This Bill was killed.  I testified against this Bill because OSHA and the EPA do not have jurisdiction in our homes. This meant no enforcement and it's business as usual.

To develop safety and certification standards for the spray foam insulation industry.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

Section 1. (NEW) (Effective from passage) The Commissioner of Consumer Protection, after consultation with the Commissioners of Public Health and Energy and Environmental Protection, shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54 of the general statutes, to establish safety and certification standards for the spray foam insulation industry. Such regulations shall require all spray foam installers operating in this state to obtain training, credentialing or certification under programs established by the American Chemistry Council's Center for the Polyurethane Industry and the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, in consultation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.



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