What are Isocyanates?

We all remember Vietnam, the war where the USA wiped out thousands with tear gas in the 1960’s and still couldn’t win, but did you know that polyurethane, one of the most ubiquitously materials on earth is made from a similar toxic substance called isocyanates and is used every day in products like shoes, plumbing, floor coatings and cars?

Perhaps even worse is the fact that methyl isocyanate (MIC), a precursor in pesticide production, created the worst industrial accident in history at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India killing an estimated 25,000 people.

Isocyanates are reactive organic chemicals used in a multitude of applications that not only include polyurethane production, but pesticides, fungicides and other hazardous materials.   Traditional polyurethane is used widely due to its incomparable strength and durability, whereas a competing expoxy will only last a fraction in time.  The material is used to strengthen and protect floors from abrasion and insulate piping in many buildings and houses.

Why doesn’t the government ban isocyanates?

That’s simple, just like the agricultural industry that keeps selling us genetically modified corn that may one day turn us all into corn stalk mutated humans, the polyurethane industry is big business and has a lot to loose upon the possible castration of its cash cow business.  As we all know, when there is lots of money involved, there is lots of politics and dirty business.  The polyurethane industry is no different. 

Not only would the manufacture of isocyanates in polyurethane have to stop, but a replacement that’s as good if not better with the same or less price would have to take its place. 

But all is not lost and not everyone is tied to the greed of corporate gluttons.  Fortunately technology is rapidly expanding the way we make products and reducing the environmental and human impact.  Right now the EPA and its European counterpart are instituting changes for the future phase out of all toxic isocyanates and recommending new alternatives.

One of those alternatives is a company out of Northern California called Hybrid Coating Technologies (HCT).  HCT makes Green Polyurethane, a non-toxic polyurethane which contains zero volatile organic compounds (VOC).  This means there is no shut down time of a business due to toxic fumes, which in the end actually saves companies money when for instance, they want to redo their industrial floor coatings or insulate piping with foam polyurethane. 

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