PU foam and health

PU foam is a technical-chemical product that offers a number of benefits. It stands out thanks to its good insulating properties and easy handling. As with any other chemical products, to use the product safely, you should always comply with all general health & safety regulations. This includes: ensuring that the area is well ventilated, and wearing goggles and gloves.

Respiratory organs and skin contact

The constituent isocyanate (MDI) in the construction foam has the most impact on health. Respiratory organs may be irritated, if free isocyanate is inhaled in concentrations above the workplace tolerance levels.

If PU foam cans are used normally, the workplace tolerance is not usually exceeded. Nevertheless, we recommend ensuring that the areas in which the PU foam is used are well aired because sensitive persons can suffer hypersensitive reactions to even the smallest of amounts of MDI.

If fluid polyurethane comes into contact with the eyes, this may cause light or moderate irritation and injuries to the cornea, however these are reversible. It is always best to wear goggles.

The same applies for contact with skin. Before it has hardened, polyurethane can irritate the skin. Also, the foam adheres strongly and cannot be removed easily from the skin. To protect yourself when working with PU foam, it is recommended that you wear clothes and clothing that covers all skin.

Safe handling of compressed gases

Using spray cans is so normal that it is easy to forget that there is a risk of explosion connected to the compressed gases. Whilst accidents with PU foam cans are very rare, most cases are due to negligent use of the compressed gases, often because they are used directly adjacent to open flames or a can is damaged. The following are important precautions, because explosions are impossible without external influences.

  • Even if a small dent seems harmless: never work with damaged cans! The slightest of damage can weaken the can to the extent that it is unable to withstand the pressure of the gas when used and explodes.
    Here is some advice about transport and storage.
  • When working with compressed gas cans, you should keep away from open flames and never use lighters to check your work.
  • Also, never heat a can too quickly because the compressed gas may also expand too quickly.
    Here you can find more advice about working with PU foam in winter
  • It is also important that PU cans are never left in cars, if it is possible that the inside of the car could heat up in the sun.
    Here is some advice about transport and storage
  • The smaller the space in which you are working, the more careful you must be. Do not use PU foam, if you are working in narrow shafts that you cannot ventilate properly.

Emissions

The competition-neutral EMICODE classification system is used to assess to what extent vapours are created when using parquet flooring, paints, varnishes, protective treatments for upholstery or even insulating materials, such as PU foam.

The system defines three quality levels: EC1plus (= very low-emission), EC1 (= very low-emission) and EC2 (= low-emission). Originally the EMICODE was developed for adhesives and sealing agents used on large surfaces, such as parquet flooring adhesives.

For the past couple of years it has also been possible to test sealing agents based on the strict EMICODE guidelines which are used in much smaller quantities compared to e.g. PU foam. PU foams that were tested were classified as very low-emission with the label EC1plus (= very low emission).

You can read more about the Emicode here Emicode.

Classification as H351 acc. to GHS

According to the globally harmonised system for the classification and labelling of chemicals (GHS) used within the European Union, PU foam must bear the H351 statement. H351 states that products may have a carcinogenic effect.

This suspicion was based on animal trials that were conducted at the beginning of the millennium. In these tests, animals were exposed to a lung-like aerosol polymer MDI for two years.

When setting up the test, the MDI was changed so that it was inhaled for a longer period. However, this inhalative mixture of substances is not created when PU foam is used normally.

There is a brief summary of the study results on the safety data sheet issued by ISOPA.

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