The Environmental Protection Agency intends to study whether it needs to address potential health risks of two chemicals found in spray polyurethane foam and used in compounds that seal concrete and finish floors.

The agency said last week it will collect data regarding methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and conduct exposure monitoring to help it decide whether it should write rules involving the two products in their uncured form.

Diisocyanates are used to make polyurethane polymers, such as foam mattresses or bowling balls, which consist of fully reacted, or “cured,” polymers. The adhesives, coatings, and spray foam mentioned are uncured and react while in use, making them harmful during exposure.

Diisocyanates can cause severe skin and breathing ailments in people who have been repeatedly exposed to them. The chemicals are also known to cause work-related asthma and, in rare cases, fatal breathing reactions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) regulates workplace exposures through permissible exposure limits. While there are a number of guidelines and information for professional contractors who work with the chemicals, there is little in the way of guidelines for customers and non-professional people who may be exposed. The EPA will look to consider the risks for consumers exposed to the chemicals in their various forms.

"There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.