Fire Retardants in Insulation


A research team drawn from U.S-based centers of excellence, including the University of California and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has conducted a thorough review of fire safety literature since the mid-1970s and concluded that the addition of halogenated organic compounds to plastic insulation materials, such as polystyrene, polyisocyanurate and polyurethane, is costly, ineffective and environmentally damaging. Their conclusions are published in the latest issue of the journal Building Research and Information.

Led by internationally renowned fire expert Dr. Vytenis Babrauskas of Fire Science & Technology Inc., the research team investigated the impact of the “Steiner Tunnel test,” which is used to test the propagation of fire over the surface of all sorts of building materials in the early stages of fire (before flashover point is reached). Their paper suggests that changing the U.S. building codes to exempt foam plastic insulation materials from the test would avoid the use of thousands of tons of flame retardants that are known or suspected to be persistent organic pollutants. They conclude:

“Such a change would … decrease the cost of foam plastic insulation and encourage the use of insulation materials for increasing building energy efficiency and mitigating climate change. The potential for health and ecological harm from the use of flame retardant chemicals would be reduced and the fire safety of buildings would be maintained.”

To cite this article:Vytenis Babrauskas , Donald Lucas , David Eisenberg , Veena Singla , Michel Dedeo & Arlene Blum (2012):
Flame retardants in building insulation: a case for re-evaluating building codes, Building Research & Information, 40:6,738-755
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