New Analysis Finds Popularly Used Insulation Materials Pollute BIPOC, Low-Income Communities

NEW YORK, NY A new analysis from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Healthy Building Network and Energy Efficiency for All has found that the commonly used insulation materials studied, spray foam (SPF) and fiberglass, pollute BIPOC and/or low-income communities over their life cycles, with SPF carrying a heavier pollution burden. While cost, performance and greenhouse gas emissions have traditionally dictated which insulation material is selected, the study provides a new decision-making framework that incorporates chemical and environmental justice impacts.

Additional findings from the reports, Chemical and Environmental Justice Impacts in the Life Cycle of Building Insulation, include:

●      While fiberglass is preferable to spray foam, improvements are still needed to decrease harmful pollution related to the fiberglass life cycle.

●      Avoiding hazardous chemicals in a product’s content can serve as a starting point to help protect building occupants, installers, and others impacted by those hazardous chemicals throughout the supply chain.

●      There are significant opportunities for life cycle improvements by avoiding hazardous chemicals, implementing circularity, and taking other actions stemming from the principles of green chemistry and environmental justice.

●      The production and disposal of building materials can impact surrounding communities, contributing to environmental injustice.

●      Understanding the embodied chemical impacts in the life cycle of building materials, including how they contribute to environmental injustice and cumulative impacts on communities, is necessary to inform safer, more equitable material choices and policies.

The study also details recommendations for building industry professionals, policymakers and manufacturers, including being transparent about what is in a product, how and where the product and chemical inputs are made, and any hazardous releases that occur throughout the product’s life cycle.

An abridged version of the reports can be found in the report brief as well.

The following statements are from the co-authors of the report:

“Billions of pounds of insulation are installed in buildings every year. Our report urges assessment of the full life cycle impact of insulation materials to sustainably and equitably build energy-efficient spaces. Taking an environmental and climate-justice lens when selecting building insulation can reduce harm to BIPOC communities and minimize our reliance on fossil-fuel intensive materials, like spray foam.” - Veena Singla, Senior Scientist, NRDC

“Insulation is an integral part of our buildings, and better insulating buildings to decrease energy use is an important part of climate solutions. However, the current carbon-focused approach fails to account for other harmful emissions associated with the life cycle of insulation materials and perpetuates harm to BIPOC and low-income communities.” - Rebecca Stamm, Senior Researcher, Healthy Building Network

Additional Resources:

●      New Analysis: Building Material Pollution Harms Communities (September ‘22)

●      Environmental Injustice: Cumulative Impacts in Kansas City (September ‘22)

●      Multifamily Energy Efficiency Programs Not Sealing the Deal (February ‘22)

●      We Can’t Have Environmental Justice Without These Ten Things (December ‘21)

●      Making Affordable Multifamily Housing More Energy Efficient: A Guide to Healthier Upgrade Materials (September ‘18)

About NRDC
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

About Healthy Building Network
Since 2000, Healthy Building Network (HBN) has defined the leading edge of healthy building practices that increase transparency in the building products industry, reduce human exposure to hazardous chemicals, and create market incentives for healthier innovations in manufacturing. We are a team of researchers, engineers, scientists, building experts, and educators, and we pursue our mission on three fronts:

1.      Research and policy—uncovering cutting-edge information about healthier products and health impacts;

2.      Data tools—producing innovative software platforms that ensure product transparency and catalog chemical hazards; and

3.      Education and capacity building—fostering others’ capabilities to make informed decisions.

4.      As a nonprofit organization, we do work that broadly benefits the public, especially children and the most marginalized communities, who suffer disproportionate health impacts from exposure to toxic chemicals. We work to reduce toxic chemical use, minimize hazards, and eliminate exposure for all.

Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @HBNKnowBetter.

About Energy Efficiency for All
Energy Efficiency for All unites people from diverse sectors and backgrounds to collectively make affordable multifamily homes energy and water efficient. We do this work so people in underinvested and marginalized communities—particularly Black, Latino, and other communities of color—can equitably benefit from the health, economic, and environmental advantages of energy and water efficiency. Reducing energy and water use in affordable multifamily housing will improve the quality of life for millions, preserve affordable housing across the country, reduce the energy burden on those who feel it most, and cut carbon pollution.

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