20 September 2011


Apparently the construction industry is really pushing the new formaldehyde-free insulation. They claim that it doesn't off-gas, doesn't itch as much during installation, is easier to install, and will scrub your toilets clean for the rest of your life.

Don't believe it. I've never had any trouble with that formaldehyde-filled, asthma- and cancer-inducing Pink Panther stuff that the greenbuilding industry says will hunt you down and kill you if you've ever been in contact with it. Granted, I never rolled around in it, but I have hung plenty of it without a respirator, gloves, goggles, or even long sleeves. Itching was never a problem (of course, poison ivy doesn't seem to do anything to me, either, but extended use of antibacterial hand soap makes my hands crack and bleed, so I may be the exception in all this). Now that the pink stuff is unavailable (at our local Lowe's, anyway), we've had to buy the newer formaldehyde-free product. This stuff is AWFUL to work with. From what I understand about it, formaldehyde is used as a binding agent to keep all the fluff together. It has nothing to do with the itch factor - the fiberglass itself is what causes that. In my opinion, they haven't found an adequate replacement for formaldehyde's binding properties. The new stuff sends a cloud of fiberglass dust into the air the moment you so much as look at it. It gets into your eyes and mouth and skin and nose with very unpleasant results. Even after a long bath and fresh clothes, I still itch all over. I can't seem to get it out of my throat, either.

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems like a chance of a potential future problem caused by off-gassing seems like a better bet than the definite and current problem of breathing in fiberglass shards and scratching myself to distraction. There is a study that gets cited stating that indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality because of the off-gassing of building materials, insulation among them. We keep our windows open most of the year, and we'll never get this 105-year-old house as "tight" as new construction. Off-gassing just doesn't seem like a problem for us. The asthma and breathing problems have not materialized in the year-and-a-half that we've lived here, and we're literally surrounded by formaldehyde-filled insulation in the master bedroom.

While I think it's admirable that companies are trying to make "green" products available at a reasonable cost, why can't I choose which version I want to use in my own home?

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