Dangers of Toxic Isocyanates

As we walk through life many of us are unaware of the paint & coatings chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, such as toxic isocyanates. Adding to this, manufacturers, distributors, contractors and applicators themselves are often unaware of the toxicity of the products they make and sell. Sometimes, we don’t see or even smell the toxicity of a known carcinogenic or potential carcinogen until its started wreaking havoc on our immune and/or or nervous system.

A daily scenario exists for most of us as we get in a car where we are subjected to 13 highly toxic substances including: formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic and dioxin/furans. Or take isocyanates, which are almost always used to produce urethanes and polyurethanes. Most commonly used chemicals during production phase and by products of polyurethane production include: phosgene, isocyanates, toluene, diamines, and the ozone-depleting gases methylene chloride and CFCs, in addition to halogenated flame retardants and pigments. Polyurethane production has been a large contributor to the deterioration of the earth as well as the people who absorb its toxins.

Polyurethane with its accompanying toxic isocyanates can be found in anything from boats, plumbing, beds and industrial floor coatings, which pose a serious risk to those that work in large factories. A typical scenario might be Boeing, which has thousands of employees and thousands of square footage of floor space that’s been coated with a protective seal to make it easy for cleaning and adds to longevity.

In these industrial scenarios someone has to apply the polyurethane and then lots of people have to work on it for years, giving lots of opportunity for exposure and toxic intake of isocyanates. Isocyanates have been known to cause vomiting, blurry vision, headaches and potentially leading to cancer as well. Given, we may be a petrochemical based society; there are still several alternatives in creating a sustainable environment by using bio-friendly solutions.

The first tool for change is education. An educated public that knows the difference between toxic and non-toxic floor coatings or even household items will make better choices. Currently the EPA and its European counterpart are making new demands on manufacturers to openly educate their customers on the dangers of polyurethane and toxic isocyanates. Eventually it is anticipated that laws will be put in place completely eliminating the use of isocyanates and polyurethane which contains it.

For now it’s important to simply read labels and do a little research before buying. A large corporation who wants to buy industrial floor coating may want to consider an eco-friendly alternative, which won’t make workers sick and will endure the rigors of manufacturing and weather. A simple Google search for non-toxic polyurethane or non-toxic floor coatings can go a long way in making an educated decision.

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