Toxicants in Insulation

Construction worker

Insulation is recognized as the primary energy efficient product that can be harmful to tenants and installers.

Insulation provides a number of benefits: it can lower energy usage, reduce air pollution, increase comfort, improve indoor air quality and, of course, save money. Insulation also can keep occupants healthier by helping to prevent mold growth and producing a healthy air exchange within a building.


Choosing the type of insulation to use is often a complicated process, as there are a wide variety of materials and formats, different regional climate demands and significant cost variations. Applications depend on where materials are to be used in a building. Factors such as moisture control, durability and ability to stop heat flow are all key.

But for all the good insulation does, it can be harmful. The concern comes from the chemicals used to bind, formulate or even make insulation “safer” through fire resistance. Even insulation products labeled as “green” may contain dangerous chemicals.

For example, spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is often promoted as a “green” product. While it insulates better per inch than fiberglass or cellulose, it also contains chemicals known to be hazardous. The American Chemistry Council cautions that a green claim “should never be confused with the toxicity profile of a product.”

Insulation remains a key component of efficiency retrofits, but when considering the type of material to use, selecting healthy insulation products should be just as important— if not more important—than cost and comfort.