Insulating with Fiberglass May Put You at Risk of Cancer

Posted on May 25th, 2012 by author  |  10 Comments »

fiberglass insulationDo you live in a modern home with fiberglass installed all over the place? Fiberglass is a man-made fiber that works as an insulation tool. Even though it’s very useful, you must be careful if you choose this material. According to research, fiberglass can potentially give you cancer and other health problems.

Dr. Joseph Mercola discusses the many damaging effects of fiberglass and what materials you can replace it with.

What is Fiberglass?

Fiberglass, also called glass wool or fibrous glass, was first sold during the 1930s. It is made from finely-spun glass, forming a mass similar to wool. Fiberglass is used to insulate houses, furnace filters, appliances, and pipes. The airplane and automobile industry also uses it for sound control. Some roofing materials, plastics, and curtains also use fiberglass.

Unfortunately, fiberglass poses a danger for people who are working with or installing it. This is because the small fibers in the insulating material can be inhaled or swallowed. They can stay in your lungs for a long period of time and cause health problems like cancer.

Fiberglass Was Found to Be “Cancer-Causing” – But Why Are There No Warnings for It?

In 1994, fiberglass was proposed to be a top safety concern on the synthetic mineral fiber list of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). At the time, fiberglass was listed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) as “reasonably expected to be a human carcinogen.”
Cell studies showed that certain fiberglass fibers may cause DNA damage, while animal studies revealed that certain glass fibers can also lead to tumors in animal lungs and other tissue sites.

But in the updated 2011 NTP “Report on Carcinogens,” it was said that only “certain glass wool fibers (inhalable) are reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.” This means that fiberglass is excluded from receiving a carcinogenic listing.

According to NTP, this is because compared to other “special” glass fibers, such as the type used by the aircraft industry, fiberglass is “less durable,” so it is less likely to stay in your lungs once it has been inhaled.

NTP explains:

“There are generally two categories of glass wool fibers that consumers might use: low-cost general-purpose fibers and premium special-purpose fibers. Most home and building insulation projects use general-purpose glass wool. Special-purpose glass fibers are used for applications, such as separating the negative and positive plates in a battery, and in high-efficiency air filters and aircraft, spacecraft, and acoustical insulation.

In general, insulation fibers are less durable and less biopersistent than special-purpose fibers, and may be less likely to cause cancer than the more durable, more persistent special-purpose fibers.”(link)

Dr. Mercola says that removing fiberglass from the carcinogenic list means that OSHA does not have to declare it is hazardous for workers. This means that people working in fiberglass factories every day are exposed to dangerous levels.

This is reason why the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), a consumer group, protests the findings, claiming that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have altered the formula used to determine carcinogenicity. This is why fiberglass seems safe when in reality, it isn’t.

NACAA calls for the government to reexamine the fiberglass data, so that fiberglass workers may be protected from this potentially carcinogenic substance.
Richard Belzer also gives his comments regarding the NTP carcinogen report, and notes many inaccuracies, including in the fiberglass data. He claims that the listings are “not scientific determinations so much as policy decisions justified, where possible, by science.” (link)

Get Rid of Fiberglass in Your Home Today

Aside from inducing an increased cancer risk, fiberglass exposure may:

  • Worsen your asthma and bronchitis
  • Irritate your eyes, nose, and throat
  • Cause rashes and itchiness
  • Irritate your stomach (particularly once fiberglass fibers are swallowed)

Following these revelations, Dr. Mercola recently had all the fiberglass insulation in his attic removed. He replaced them with five inches of blown-in foam to provide insulation to his home. He says that this not only removed the carcinogenic material (which actually goes down into the living room area), but also closes off his attic, making it only four degrees different from his living room’s temperature. The foam insulation also protects against winds as high as 140 mph.

Dr. Mercola warns that people who live near fiberglass factories are also at risk of exposure. Although there is no solid evidence that living in a home with fiberglass insulation may put a person at risk, research says that “stirring up the air,” such as during remodeling or installation, may be very problematic.

“Please understand that fiberglass is a serious issue and if you can it would be wise to consider replacing it in your attic as it’s likely that fiberglass, like so many other man-made synthetic materials, could contribute to health problems if your exposure is significant or recurring,” Dr. Mercola says.

If ever you are going to work with fiberglass, he recommends using protective equipment, such as:

  • Safety glasses and gloves
  • Long-sleeved work clothes or disposable coveralls
  • A respirator
  • Shop vacuum (use this after wetting the dust and fibers)

Dr. Mercola also advises opening a window or door every time you work with fiberglass. This will increase ventilation and reduce dust levels in your home.

Try These Safe Fiberglass Alternatives

If possible, you should also seek non-toxic, budget-friendly, and recycled home insulation materials that will not put you at risk of any health problems. Some great ideas include:

  • Cotton fiber
  • Sheep’s wool
  • Recycled blue jeans
  • Recycled newspapers and paper products

“[These] green building products are safe, effective, and will not make your skin irritated and itchy the way conventional fiberglass often does,” explains Dr. Mercola.

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Responses to “Insulating with Fiberglass May Put You at Risk of Cancer”

  1. Pacman says on :

    Is this also the fiberglass that is used for building boats? I have worked with fiberglass boats for many years and i get unormal easy tired when i do anerobic exercises. Should i be conserned ?

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  4. B G Lynch says on :

    My husband died six months ago today. He worked in the fiberglass boat industry for many years. He was a very healthy hard working guy. He began having shortness of breath and was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension. He was almost eighty when he died, but I wonder if the fiber glass may have contributed to his breathing problems.

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  7. Helen says on :

    Another article to scare the crap out of the public.

  8. craig says on :

    Another note that is important to mention is the amount of formaldehyde that is used as a bonding agent in fiberglass insulation. that is a known carcinogen. When I gutted my whole house and had to insulate it, I was covered and itching in fiberglass but wore a good respirator. However, the smell of formaldehyde was overwhelming.

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