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Steps to Control Exposure

Safe work practices should be in place to avoid exposure at every stage of spray polyurethane foam (SPF) installation. Building occupants and other trade workers not involved in the SPF installation should vacate the premises during installation of various types of SPF products in consultation with the contractor.

For Homeowners, School Administrators, and Other Building Occupants
Homeowners, school administrators, other building occupants and decision-makers should be informed about the products they are having installed on their property. Follow these steps to play your part in helping prevent exposures to the chemicals in SPF products.

  • Be informed:
    • Learn about the product being installed in your home.
      • Obtain copies of product literature.
      • Become informed of potential health effects and safe handling procedures for chemicals and products being used or installed in home/building by contractors.
      • Individuals with a history of skin conditions, respiratory allergies, asthma, or prior isocyanate sensitization should carefully review product information when considering the use of SPF products and may want to consider safer alternatives. Read more about health concerns.
    • Ask your contractor questions such as:
      • Where will SPF be installed?
      • Due to curing variability, what is the appropriate time of year to install SPF in our area and what weather conditions might impact the installation of SPF?
      • What should I expect at each stage of the installation process? (See below for steps contractors should take to avoid exposure every stage of installation.)
      • How do you plan to isolate and ventilate the work area?
      • What other safety precautions will you take?

  • Do research when selecting a contractor:
    • Ensure your contractor has received appropriate training.
    • Verify the contractor’s insurance and licenses.
    • Check the contractor’s references
  • Discuss re-occupancy guidance with your contractor before the job has started:
    • Find a place to relocate the building occupants, including pets, during installation.
    • For schools, do installation while school is out of session and all occupants are off premises.
    • Exercise caution when determining a safe re-entry time with your contractor.
    • Read more information on when it is safe to re-enter after SPF installation.

Read more information about what to expect Exit EPA Disclaimer.

For Do-it-Yourselfers
The two-component high-pressure kit is a professional system and should only be used by a trained applicator. Two-component low pressure kits and one-component foam are also used by professional applicators, largely for air sealant purposes or to fill holes and gaps; however, these types of products are often referred to as "DIY" products because they are available for do-it-yourself (DIY) applicators, but note that the same precautions should be taken as with professional-use.

Homeowners who decide to conduct a do-it-yourself project using the two-component low-pressure kit or the one-component can of spray foam should educate themselves on safe work practices, techniques, and precautions that professionals would use. You have the ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of yourself, your family or those in your care.

  • Become informed of potential health effects and safe handling procedures for chemicals and products you are using.
  • Consider whether use of these products is appropriate or whether you should consider having a trained professional install the products.
  • Individuals with a history of skin conditions, respiratory allergies, asthma, or prior isocyanate sensitization should carefully review product information when considering the use of SPF products and may want to consider safer alternatives. Read more about health concerns.
  • Manufacturers recommend in their isocyanate safety data sheets that individuals undergo medical surveillance prior to working with these materials and individuals with a history of medical conditions as described above will be restricted from work with isocyanates.
  • Note, these products are inappropriate for "creative" uses such as science or art projects and should not be used around children.

See below for specific steps to take to avoid exposure every stage of installation.

Read more information on the types of SPF products and applications and read the material safety data sheet and product information for proper procedures and appropriate protection specific to each type of application.

Read more information about the variability of curing rates.

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For Contractors, Applicators, and Weatherization Workers
To prevent chemical exposures during and after installation, SPF applicators and helpers should use "best practices" based on the type of SPF product applied as recommended by the manufacturer, including:

  • Training and Comprehension
    • Participate in free basic online training Exit EPA Disclaimer for preliminary information.
    • Receive hands-on classroom training on the safe use of SPF offered by the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance Accreditation Program Exit EPA Disclaimer and SPF system houses among others.
    • Read the manufacturer’s label and material safety data sheet (MSDS) and follow directions to achieve consistent curing conditions and times.
    • Be prepared to carefully manage temperature and other area conditions while the SPF dries or cures. Unpredictable or uncontrolled curing rates can increase the risks of exposure.
    • Make sure all applicators and helpers understand ahead of time how to safely handle chemicals, the dangers of exposure, factors that affect curing, and have the appropriate protective equipment on hand.
    • Understand how to discuss SPF application with building owners and occupants Exit EPA Disclaimer including plans to vacate during and after installation.

  • Preparation
    • Receive medical surveillance to ensure applicators and helpers are healthy enough to wear a respirator.
    • Vacate building occupants and other trade workers who are unprotected.
    • Read the manufacturer's label and material safety data sheet (MSDS) and follow directions to achieve consistent curing conditions and times.
    • Handle and store raw chemical ingredients properly at all times to avoid chemical exposure.
  • Spraying, streaming, or beading application process
    • Isolate the work site to prevent isocyanates and other chemical vapors from spreading to other rooms or floors.
    • Make sure workers wear protective equipment at all times to avoid exposure to vapor, mist, particulates and dust, including
          • Appropriate respirator
          • Chemical resistant (e.g., nitrile) gloves
          • Chemical resistant clothing
    • Ventilate the work area.

  • Trimming of foam
    • Make sure workers wear personal protective equipment while cutting and scraping foam to avoid exposure to dust and particles that may contain isocyanates.
  • Clean up after preparation, application, and trimming
    • Clean the work site thoroughly to avoid exposing other workers and building occupants to dust and particles that may contain isocyanates and other SPF chemicals.
    • Remove protective clothing and handle with care to avoid exposing yourself and others to toxic chemicals.
  • Re-Occupancy

These "best practices" are a starting point to help professional applicators use SPF products more safely; this Web site will be updated with more specifics on "best practices" as EPA identifies and/or develops them.

Models for Exposure Prevention to Chemicals in SPF
OSHA requires that workers be trained so that they are aware of the potential hazards and follow safe work practices. No one should be permitted in the work site during installation of SPF except workers who are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Training should include protection of applicators, and any potentially exposed workers, including other workers at the job site or workers re-entering the job site. EPA strongly recommends that building occupants receive clear guidance from the contractor on safe re-entry times in advance of the work to ensure there will be no exposure to SPF chemicals.

  • In January 2008, NIOSH followed up the 2006 Alert with a poster, called “Got Everything Covered?,” that provides helpful tips on protecting workers from the hazards of isocyanate exposure during spray-on truck bed liner applications.
  • EPA's Design for the Environment Program, through its Automotive Refinishing Partnership, has developed numerous health and safety materials, including a Self-Evaluation Checklist of Best Practices (PDF) (18 pp, 182 KB, about PDF), which helps businesses, vocational schools, and community colleges evaluate current practices and identify areas where improvements can be made to protect workers, students, and surrounding communities from isocyanates and other toxic chemicals. This approach provides a model for similar risk-management activities in other sectors with isocyanate exposures, e.g., spray polyurethane foam installation.

Health and Safety Information from Other Organizations
The American Chemistry Council’s Center for the Polyurethanes Industry (CPI) and the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA) have developed communication and product stewardship materials targeted to SPF professionals and posted them on their spray polyurethane foam: health and safety Exit EPA Disclaimer site.

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Consumer Complaints

If home or building occupants have concerns that they may be exposed to residual SPF chemicals, potential off-gassing, or continue to smell odors, they should contact their contractor to ensure proper procedures and clean-up were followed. If their concerns are not resolved, affected parties should contact their local or state consumer protection office or contractors' licensing board. Consumers can also file an online Consumer Product Incident Report with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on the SaferProducts.gov website.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and Product Literature

Ask your retailer or distributor to provide you product literature as well as the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the material you are using. MSDSs provide information on health effects, exposure controls, safe handling procedures, personal protective equipment, and other important information. MSDSs and other product literature can be found on the product manufacturer website or you can also search the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Household Products Database.

Free Online Training Available!

Applicators and helpers:Receive free basic online training Exit EPA Disclaimer available on the American Chemistry Council’s Center for Polyurethanes Industry SPF Health and Safety website for preliminary information. Applicators should also receive classroom and hands-on instruction on the safe use of SPF offered by the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance Accreditation Program Exit EPA Disclaimer and SPF system houses.

Hazard Communication

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires employers to develop a written hazard communication program to inform workers about the hazards and identities of all chemicals used in the workplace. The program must also address the measures needed to protect workers against adverse effects from the use, handling, and potential exposure to chemicals in the workplace. Additional information can be found in the OSHA Hazard Communications Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).

Weatherization Assistance

The Weatherization Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center (WAPTAC) website contains a ‘virtual’ library of all rules, regulations, policies and procedures required by DOE's weatherization program, including WAPTAC health and safety information on spray polyurethane foam . Also, find useful information in DOE's Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades and EPA's Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols for Home Energy Upgrades .

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