New research shows the light density residential fiberglass insulation industry in the U.S. and Canada has finally eliminated the use of formaldehyde-based binders in its manufacturing. Formaldehyde is a human toxicant with a long history of use in residential insulation, but it—like 62,000 other chemicals—was grandfathered in and is unregulated by the federal government under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. In 1938, Owens Corning produced the first fiberglass insulation using formaldehyde-based resin and phenol formaldehyde remained the industry standard binder for the next seven decades. The movement to remove the chemical from insulation began in 2002, when Johns Manville shifted to an acrylic binder.
Healthy Building Network, in research supported by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, confirmed manufacturers’ statements on formaldehyde by examining formaldehyde pollution data for thirty residential fiberglass insulation factories in the U.S. and Canada over the past ten years. The reports confirm the reformulation: these factories released nearly 600,000 pounds of formaldehyde in 2005 but by 2014, these releases dropped by 90 percent, to about 60,000 pounds. As of October 2015, manufacturers are no longer using formaldehyde as a binder in light density residential fiberglass insulation. The report concluded any releases going forward will come from the production of some higher density batts, which are mainly sold on the commercial and industrial market.
“While other companies initially resisted moving toward the safer alternative, eventually the industry felt the public pressure building to replace the toxic chemical,” said Jim Vallette of Healthy Building Network. “HBN used the Johns Manville example—and the introduction of Bonded Logic’s formaldehyde free cotton insulation batts—to support a credit in the Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC) in 2003. And the green building community rallied around the effort to get rid of formaldehyde.”
Vallette said the market received the signals and changed. In late 2008, Knauf Insulation released its EcoBatt fiberglass insulation; CertainTeed began producing its formaldehyde-free Sustainable Insulation in 2010 for both residential and commercial/industrial applications; and in 2011, Owens Corning launched its formaldehyde-free EcoTouch brand. The last holdouts followed suit.
“Removing this toxic chemical from production is a win both for consumers and the workers in those plants,” said Jacques Koppel of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation. “It took a combination of informed consumers and green building advocates to finally push companies to accomplish this. There’s no doubt that greener, safer alternatives are the future and this report shows you can successfully eliminate harmful chemicals if you have the will to do so.”