In 1950, Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation or better known as UFFI was developed in Europe as an improved means of insulating in house walls. It is typically made from a mixture of urea and formaldehyde along with foaming agent and compressed air. There had been many complaints particularly from people living in small, well-sealed homes, which were treated with UFFI that Canadian authorities became concerned about possible health implications. The further use of UFFI was banned in 1980.
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is the smallest aldehyde with the formula . It is an important precursor to many other chemical compounds, especially for polymers. Exposure to formaldehyde is a significant health hazard. At concentrations of about 0.1 parts per million (ppm) in air formaldehyde can irritate the eyes. Formaldehyde inhaled at this concentration may cause headaches, a burning sensation in the throat, and difficulty breathing. The lowest level at which many people can begin to smell formaldehyde is about 0.3 ppm. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows no more than 16 parts per billion (ppb) formaldehyde in the air in new buildings constructed for that agency. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study found a new home measured 0.076 ppm when brand new and 0.045 ppm after 30 days.
What is Urea?
Urea is an organic compound with the chemical . In body Urea forms during metabolism. It is found dissolved in blood in the range of 2.5 to 7.5 mmol/liter, and is excreted by the kidney as a component of urine. Urea can be irritating to skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract. High concentrations in the blood can be damaging. Ingestion of low concentrations of urea, such as are found in typical human urine, are not dangerous
UFFI the long term risk hazards
UFFI is formed by combining urea and formaldehyde to form a polymer chain
Study has shown that the UFFI polymer can under go thermal decomposition to give off formaldehyde and urea. The major toxin in this case is the formaldehyde that can cause mild to severe irritation. In 1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen, which was later reclassified as a known human carcinogen associated with nasal sinus cancer and possibly with leukemia in June 2004.