The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued action plans to address the potential health risks of two chemicals used in making polyurethane polymers, adhesives, sealants and coatings.
Both plans focus on “the potential health effects that may result from exposures to the consumer or self-employed worker while using products containing uncured (unreacted) diisocyanates (e.g., spray-applied foam sealants, adhesives, and coatings)” and from incidental exposures to the general population.
The plans identify a range of actions the agency is considering under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
“There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
|OSHA regulates workplace exposure to diisocyanate compounds.|
The two new plans are the latest in EPA’s program of Chemical Action Plans
launched in 2009. EPA is also currently crafting an Action Plan for siloxanes.
Uncured Compounds at Issue
Diisocyanates are used to make polyurethane polymers. Most polyurethane products, such as foam mattresses or bowling balls, are fully reacted (cured) and not of concern. Adhesives, coatings, spray foam and other products, however, continue to react while in use and may contain "uncured" diisocyanates to which people may be exposed, according to EPA.
Diisocyanates are known to cause severe skin and breathing responses in workers who have been repeatedly exposed to them. The chemicals have been documented as a leading cause of work-related asthma, and in severe cases, fatal reactions have occurred, EPA says.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently regulates workplace exposures through Permissible Exposure Limits. EPA plans to consider the potential risks from consumer exposure to these chemicals.
The spray foam industry notes that “persons developing sensitivity to isocyanates may have dangerous systemic reactions to extremely small exposures, including respiratory failure.” In a report on respiratory protection, it notes: “MDI should be not be heated or sprayed except with strict engineering controls and personal protective equipment.”
Possible actions to address concerns associated with TDI, MDI and related compounds include:
- Issuing rules to gather data on significant adverse effects;
- Obtaining unpublished health and safety data from industry sources;
- Requiring exposure monitoring studies for consumer products; and
- Banning or restricting consumer products containing uncured MDI or TDI.
EPA said it would work “with other federal agencies, the polyurethanes industry, and others to ensure improved labeling and provide comprehensive product safety information for polyurethane products containing uncured compounds, especially in consumer products.”