EPS Newsline

Volume 1 | Summer 2013

Issue link: http://cp.revolio.com/i/143144

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Page 10 of 13

11 Building Product Safety TECH TALK vs. Chemical Risk Assessments With the rapid creation and development of new materials, made possible by advancements in material science, questions have arisen regarding whether specific substances used to deliver improved fire protection need to be balanced against any potential impact to the environment or society's increased focus on personal health effects. As early as the mid-2000s, governments worldwide simultaneously commenced a systematic review of numerous chemicals to determine what, if any, threat they may pose either to the natural environment or to human health. This is an important debate that encompasses a broad range of issues and merits close scrutiny to carefully weigh the consequences of such a complex risk/ benefit analysis. In one such case, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), the flame retardant used in expanded polystyrene (EPS) rigid foam insulation, has undergone a formal chemical review process to identify potential risks associated with its production and use in a variety of applications, including EPS insulation, computer housing components and in textiles. Fire Safety – Risk vs. Hazard All building materials contain chemicals – either organic or inorganic – and play an essential role in contributing to a sustainable living environment. Since buildings account for a significant percentage of the energy consumed in the United States, the reduced energy consumption that can be achieved with the use of foam insulation materials should be a strong consideration when taking potential risks into account. In fact, energy use reduction is one of the defining aspects of green building. Flame retardants play a crucial role in reducing the devastating impact of fires on people, property and the environment. They prevent some fires and slow others down, which provides occupants with precious time to escape. According to the Materials Flammability Group of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, products treated with flame retardants provide additional, valuable escape time compared to untreated products. Flame retardants also deliver enhanced structural performance so that uncontrolled building fires result in burnout without partial or total collapse. Flame retardants are used in foam insulation to prevent ignition by increasing the threshold required to start a fire; reduce the spread of fire; and delay flashover, the "fireball" that can quickly occur when the combined heat and the release of flammable gases cause automatic combustion. Delaying flashover reduces the rate and intensity of burning and increases the amount of time people have to escape. Any assessment of potential health risk associated with the use of flame retardants in foam insulation must be based on scientific research that takes hazard and exposure into account. There is a big difference between hazard and risk. Almost any substance in sufficient quantities can pose a health risk. For example, too much water can kill a person. Regulatory risk assessments involve estimating probabilities based on available data. EPA guidelines recognize that different mathematical models may fit the observed data equally well and yet result in large differences in hazard projections for low doses.

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