Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Owens Corning should be the next corporation to run for President

Janet and I are in the process of remodeling our garage and making it a semi-usable "other" space. A place either of us can go work in semi-private with semi-good lighting and remodeled in a semi-green fashion. The question of insulation came up and since we have long been aware of the negative effects and classification of formaldehyde as a VOC and the potential for off-gassing, we knew to be aware of the insulation we chose. Researching green websites like Treehugger and others were useful, but certainly not an all inclusive resource for all of the products that are available out there, so I searched for "formaldehyde free insulation" on Google. The first site that came up was for a product with pretty much exactly what we were looking for, complete with MSDS sheets. Awesome!

The second site was Owens Corning. You may know them by one of the most clever marketing gimmicks of all time... pink insulation! The second MCMGoaT, in my opinion, was the white Ipod ear buds. Pretty crazy that color can mean that much to a consumerist society. Wait... no, I guess that makes perfect sense... but that's not what I'm here to rant... I mean "talk" about. They stole the Pink Panther! Crap... no, that's not it either. It's about the rhetoric.

Owens Corning has a .pdf that claims that formaldehyde free insulation is not any better than regular insulation. They're obviously Republicans because their logic is fucked up! (How's that for logic?!) Their argument is essentially, "It's not bad for you, we have been using it for 50 years and everyone thinks it's great!" Well, mercury was used for amalgam fillings and to make felt, so we should continue using mercury in these products because they have been used for a long time and everyone swears by them? Idiots. Mmmm, mercury bubble tea...

Owens Corning references the EPA and CPSC to cross-confuse people (is that a real thing?).

OC: "Just the Facts - Formaldehyde and Insulation": "The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not even list fiber glass insulation as a major source of formaldehyde in the home."

Well then, let's just see if there is anything on the Environmental Protection Agency's website and The Consumer Product Safety Commission's website.

CPSC: "An Update on Formaldehyde" - 1st paragraph, 5th bullet... "Formaldehyde is an important industrial chemical used to make other chemicals, building materials, and household products. It is one of the large family of chemical compounds called volatile organic compounds or ‘VOCs’. The term volatile means that the compounds vaporize, that is, become a gas, at normal room temperatures. Formaldehyde serves many purposes in products. It is used as a part of:"

wait for it... wait for it...

"* certain insulation materials (urea-formaldehyde foam and fiberglass insulation)."

It would seem Owens Corning made a boo boo... or did they? Is OC correct? Fuck me!! The EPA and CPSC don't list "fiber glass insulation as a major source of formaldehyde in the home" after all. Rather, it's listed as the fifth bullet in a list of products for which this particular VOC serves many purposes. I'm so stupid! I hate me, I hate me, I hate me. Sorry OC... I'll vote for you (how do you make an "I love you" emoticon?).

Oh, and not for nuttin', but here's the EPA's formaldehyde page. It basically says the same stuff and refers to CPSC.

Now that we (I) have discussed how they mislead (told the obvious truth to) everyone with the references to the EPA and CSPC, let us (me) discuss the references they left out.

How about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website on formaldehyde?

CDC (NIOSH) : "FORMALDEHYDE: Evidence of Carcinogenicity" Do we even have to go any further than the title?


Let's anyway!

Second line (which isn't even the body of the document yet)... "April 15, 1981". I guess the problem has been around for a long time.

Oh wait... I'm still an idiot after all... the body of the document actually has information too. "Epidemiologic studies conducted to date do not permit a definitive evaluation of the carcinogenic risk of formaldehyde to humans." However, "The first signs or symptoms noticed on exposure to formaldehyde at concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 5 ppm are burning of the eyes, tearing (laceration), and general irritation to the upper respiratory passages." Aaahhhh... I sho' do love me some formaldehyde induced lacerations in me mince pies.

Oops, continued idiocy on my part... sorry everyone. Apparently that study was done on formaldehyde in funeral homes and on a chemical known as bis ether (formed by the combination of formaldehyde and HCl)... not on garage remodel fiberglass insulation installations.

Hopefully I'm done making all of these embarrassing mistakes. In an attempt to try to redeem myself, here is yet another particularly useless/useful piece of info from the Documentation for Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLH) on formaldehyde. "NIOSH REL: 0.016 ppm TWA, 0.1 ppm 15­minute CEILING; NIOSH considers formaldehyde to be a potential occupational carcinogen as defined by the OSHA carcinogen policy [29 CFR 1990]. " What the hell does that mean? Let's look up the OSHA carcinogen policy too, shall we?

OSHA's website on formaldehyde has the most legal-ese, so in order to skip right to the good stuff, go to Standard Number: 1910.1048. There's a lot of stuff here that basically says that even in small amounts, formaldehyde is something to be cautious of, must be reported on MSDS reports at certain levels, have signs posted at certain levels, require breathing apparatus and filter change frequency standards at certain levels, etc.

Let's compare MSDS sheets to see if there is even a ppm value listed for these materials...

Owens Corning PROPINK® Loosefill Fiber Glass Insulation; PROPINK® Complete: There was no MSDS available for the PINK Fiber Glass Insulation so I figured this was close. The following is listed in the Composition/Ingredients Section...

Fiber Glass Wool (Fibrous Glass): CAS No. 65997-17-3
Petroleum distillates, solvent-refined heavy paraffinic: CAS No. 64741-88-4
Non-Hazardous Statement: The remaining components of this product are non-hazardous or are in a small enough quantity as to not meet regulatory thresholds for disclosure. These components contain no substances or impurities which would influence the classification of this product

Johns Manville MSDS for Fiber Glass Building Insulation, Formaldehyde-free: It seems to me that all materials are listed in Composition/Ingredients Section...

Fiber glass wool: CAS No. 65997-17-3
Acrylic thermoset resin
Foil/kraft, kraft, FSK, polyethylene, PSK, and various metal building facings
Oh, woe is me... I seem to have gone off on a tangent and I am pontificating points not pertinent to Pink! The question of carcinogenicity was never raised by Owens Corning. They were simply saying some really stupid crap that doesn't make me trust them. Basically, my main gripe here is not that insulation may or may not have trace amounts of formaldehyde. It seems to me that it's a personal preference whether I buy something that claims to have zero or some formaldehyde. I don't want the formaldehyde-free guys to lie to me if there is formaldehyde in their product, but neither do I want someone to tell me they use formaldehyde and use some really stupid arguments as to why it's ok to use it. I don't want someone blowing sunshine up my ass, but I also don't want someone shitting in my mouth and telling me its Skittles. "Uuuhhhh... taste the rainbow, bitch!"

Here is an example of how to address the issue correctly.

CertainTeed has a "Questions and Answers About Formaldehyde and Fiber Glass Insulation" that seems to take a honest and direct approach to this subject. Less smoke, less skittles. Bravo!

And, oh by the way, So Fucking What (shameless shitty movie plug) if there is so little formaldehyde left in the end product as to invalidate everyone's justifiable concerns about VOC off-gassing in their homes... the formaldehyde doesn't get inserted magically into the insulation with the wand waving antics of the low-VOC fairy. CertainTeed's FAQ addresses this to some extent with the following...

"Some fiber glass insulations use phenol formaldehyde in the binder, which holds the glass fibers together. During the manufacturing process, the binder is cured at very high temperatures, virtually eliminating the formaldehyde content. There is a small amount of free formaldehyde present in today’s fiber glass insulation products. "

Oh, I see, so you use the phenol formaldehyde in the binder, cook the binder, "virtually eliminate" the formaldehyde... so if it is virtually eliminated, what level was it to begin with before the whole virtual elimination thing. What poor sucker has to work with that crap. I'm sure the binder manufacturers are out there somewhere, but it's late and I'm cold.

Oh goodie, something interesting... from FreePatentsOnline for formaldehyde binders: "A typical phenolic resin to be used as a binder for glass fiber insulation is made at a formaldehyde/phenol mole ratio as high as six to virtually eliminate free phenol in the resin. The high formaldehyde/phenol ratio required to achieve the very low free phenol concentration results in high free formaldehyde concentrations. The high percentage of free formaldehyde in the resin must be scavenged by the addition of a large amount of urea or other formaldehyde scavenger. Urea is added after neutralizing the resin and most often just prior to use of the resin. When the urea is added, the level of free formaldehyde is typically reduced to about 0.5 to about 1.5% after the premix is allowed to react at room temperature for a few hours. "

So it looks like the recipe actually calls for a high percentage of free formaldehyde in the resin (aka binder), then cook, eliminate, rinse, repeat. Who makes the resin dammit!?

Back to the Cas Cave!

Phenol, polymer with formaldehyde and urea: CAS No. 25104-55-6

Oh shit, why the fuck am I doing this? There was only 9,055 workers who even used that crap according to a National Occupational Exposure Survey (1981 - 1983). Fuck 'em!

Seriously though, it's not just about me and my home, although that is obviously my biggest concern, it's about doing what's right, or what makes sense, or what's less harmful/dangerous/toxic/deadly to others/the environment, etc. Back to mercury for a second... maybe it's my inability to utilize Google to the fullest extent possible, but I can't seem to find anything discussing the perils of wearing a mercury cured felt hat. The danger was in making it (or so says Wikipedia). Perhaps the mercury was "virtually eliminated" as well.

And you know what... maybe MY logic isn't quite right in this blog post, but you know what?... I'm not selling a product with potential health risks and covering it up by saying that it's perfectly ok because it's not that bad. After spending all of one late night researching this online and knowing nothing about anything, it would seem to me that if you eliminate the formaldehyde from the product, it isn't necessarily eliminated from the process, but if you eliminate it from the process, you eliminate it from the product. But hey, if you can claim "green" status by checking all the boxes on the form, more power to ya. Oh wait, I get it... YOU CAN be green, but the binder manufacturers CAN'T be. As long as the process virtually eliminates the... yadda yadda, ok, making sense now. You go boy!

So remember kids, "Owens Corning continues to produce the best quality insulation in the world. Just ask any builder. Or look at the rankings. The April 2002 Builder magazine Brand Use Study ranked Owens Corning first in Brand Familiarity, Brand Used Most, and Highest Quality Rating." So, don't ask your doctor, the EPA, CSPC, CDC, or any other confusing acronymized government entity... ask your builder. Everyone knows that your builder won't steer you wrong. Right, Bob? ~Bob smiles, tooth sparkles~.