Polyurethane is a resilient, flexible and durable manufactured material that can take the place of paint, cotton, rubber, metal or wood in thousands of applications across virtually all fields. It can be hard like fiberglass, squishy like upholstery foam, protective like varnish, bouncy like rubber or sticky like glue. Since its invention during the 1940s, polyurethane has been used in a wide range of items, from baby toys to airplane wings, and it continues to be adapted for contemporary technology.
One of the many polyurethane applications is sprayed PUR foam, which is often used in the Netherlands for the insulation of houses and other buildings – both existing and new buildings. From 1992 to 2012 no health complaints were registered in relation to PUR spray foam until in May 2012 when a national television program reported health complaints. These complaints arose in a Dutch home where PUR spray foam insulation had been applied. The health complaints consisted of allergic reactions causing nausea, headache, irritated skin, respiratory problems and irritated eyes. After the first broadcast, the number of complaints increased substantially to an amount of 600 total complaints. As a result of the high amount of complaints and the media attention associated with it, spray foam sales decreased significantly.
As a result of the health complaints, the industry came together and set up a knowledge platform to take concrete actions to further improve the safety of the application of polyurethane spray foam. As signified from its product stewardship ‘Walk the Talk’ program, launched in 2006, ISOPA (the European trade association for producers of diisocyanates – the main building blocks of polyurethanes) considers information, communication and transparency to be key elements to maintaining the industry’s proven health and environmental safety record.
It is crucial to maintain the trust of the Dutch government and hence increase the general trust. Therefore, the knowledge platform launched a campaign to educate the public about sharing their knowledge on the importance of working with certified companies.
The campaign, carried out in close cooperation between the industry and FleishmanHillard, concentrated on how to prevent malpractice in the future and to force non-certified companies to become certified as yet. Furthermore, the awareness campaign was meant to increase awareness of the benefits of insulation and moreover the importance of ventilation – as research has shown the importance of ventilation in order to prevent health complaints.