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I use man made mineral fibres on a reasonably regular basis for fire protection systems, which require them as a mandatory component. There are alternatives to this, however, they tend to cost more in the initial purchase price. When I use or recommend man made mineral fibres (MMMF), I do so in the full knowledge of what I am dealing with and know how to do so SAFELY. Like any other building material, there is a safe way and an unsafe way to use it. A few years ago I authored an article in the Construction Canada magazine, concerning health issues relating to the use of man made mineral fibres (MMMF).

The purpose of this page is to provide an update as well as a justification or explanation for my use of man made mineral fibres (I never stopped), since I advocate their use in certain applications, as is evident all over my site.

When my fibre article (below) came out in 1996, the ‘fibre Mafia’ went after me with a vengeance. I had calls at my house, people following me after work, threats of lawsuits, you name it. Fibre manufacturers pulled their ads from the Construction Canada Magazine (which published my article), which did not make CSC (Construction Specifications Canada) particularly happy. So, the editor, who is an expert specification writer based in Toronto, contacted the disgruntled fibre manufacturers and offered them the opportunity of a rebuttal. They were asked to provide an article of their own to have a chance to prove mine wrong with hard data and to state their position. They declined and the issue died. Probably not a bad move.

Here is the latest update on the issue, which has generic implications:

I am aware that both rockwool and ceramic fibre manufacturers have developed products which either keep the fibres so large that they are not respirable or such that they break down once in the body. Both approaches circumvent the pathological process here as the fibres either don’t make it into the lung, or if they do, they don’t stay there so that no lesions or tumours can form around them. The next logical step (and also a very expensive one for the manufacturers) is to repeat all the system tests for fire protection, refractory applications and insulation to be able to prove that the new material will fit all the approvals for the old material. I am not sure that this has been done and how many manufacturers have participated. Perhaps it is a gray area for some of them.

This leaves us with pretty much the same old stuff on construction sites. Just because there is a safer fibre out there somewhere (at least for rockwool and ceramic fibres), that does not mean you can simply substitute fibres with say ULC’s blessing, without repeating all your tests. And without test back-up, you have no data to support that it will work, meaning it is really no good to you as a Consultant. New and improved fibres must be accompanied with new and improved testing or the certifier's statement that the old testing does indeed apply, which means that the manufacturer has successfully run representative tests, which can lead to the conclusion that all tests are covered for a clean switch from one fibre to another.

Now, the agency that everyone looks to, and which I believe are in cahoots with the fibre lobby, for reasons stated above (as evidenced by the fact that no-one wanted to acknowledge my article because it hit too close to home – particularly since the author always gets the last word&ldots;) is IARC. IARC is situated in France. IARC classifies MMMF as possibly carcinogenic. That actually means a fairly remote possibility. In that same list of possible carcinogens, you can find pickled vegetables and coffee. I like coffee too.

The fact remains that REALLY big money protects fibres. People have to protect themselves, which most certainly includes their means of earning a living. Actually, if workers follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, which are printed on the MSDS, they should be reasonably safe. No manufacturer has an excessive desire to be sued. Also, there are several safe work practice guides publicly available of how to work safely with MMMF. But they are often not adhered to. When one does not follow instructions, problems can appear. Bathe with your toaster, while it is pugged in, and rest assured, you will do much more than to just make toast. You might become 'toast' in a hurry. But back to fibres, when it’s hot and muggy, and you’re sweating, putting on pipe covering, insulating a vessel, stuffing a hole for firestopping, your safety glasses can fog up so badly that you can’t see. The respirator gets so hot inside that many users simply choose to remove it for better comfort. But businesses (You, the Specifier, the makers, the distributors, the owner of the contracting company) can typically prove due diligence by providing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), MSDS and instructions as per WHMIS. The grunt in the field is basically on his or her own when choosing to disregard the instructions and in that case everyone else is lily white. Who would argue against IARC in a court of law? Canadian law, in large part, is based upon IARC's findings. It would get pretty deep and you would need to demonstrate malicious intent or payoffs over the fact that the studies with bad findings in their possession were not considered because the source is typically employees of the fibre makers ("whistleblowers") who shortly after turning over the evidence lost their jobs and are now flipping hamburgers at McDonald's. It would be tough to battle IARC in la grande nation, particularly in a court of law in North America. IARC will not consider test data unless the sponsor of the test willingly turns it over to them. Thus whistleblowers are euchred from the start. Still, one never knows for sure the outcome of such proceedings. McDonald's had to pay the 'hot coffee victim'. Germany and Switzerland had to cough up a significant fraction of the money stolen and laundered from Jews during WW2, decades after the fact. Actually, the McDonald's case was a lot faster! So why not this? What got the Canadian Royal Commission started on asbestos was when an MD from the commission looked into death rates of members of Local 95 - International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers. All it takes is for that to start again. I'd be willing to bet that insulators still die younger than massage therapists or Zen masters or the rest of the population. But the same thing may also be true of plumbers, and most certainly caulkers, who are constantly knee-deep in solvents and VOC's of assorted descriptions. The MD from the Royal Commission on asbestos is still around and Local 95 is still run by the same business manager as before. The same players are still there to start it over again. You never know. Although, Local 95 was also instrumental in the authoring of Ontario Safe Work Practices with MMMF, which would speak against their support in anti fibre proceedings. The instructions are there. If one follows them, one can work safely with MMMF. Add the fact that a lot of construction workers work hard and play hard. Lifestyle choices have a lot to do with life expectancies and quality of life. And really, if you make the protection and the knowledge available to the workers, and they don’t use it, what more can anyone do? In court, the defendant’s attorney will surely show the IARC 2B list (which includes pickled vegetables and coffee in the same category as MMMF) and ask: "Anyone had a cup of coffee today?" How many wheelbarrows full of pickles must you eat in a day (if you can stomach it) before you develop cancer as a direct result? And even then, how do you know it's not second hand smoke or stress that did you in? How many fibres must you breathe before you develop tumors - and why on earth would you not protect yourself with the proper PPE, which will prevent all the problems?

So that is where the matter rests. Having said that, it makes sense that someone would try to stay away from fibres, in case the legislative pendulum swings the other way and now we remove MMMF the same as we did asbestos. I would bet on the continued use of fibres. I would simply identify the product very clearly in the field and perhaps make some more educated choices about what to use where, which should be led by things other than just the immediate cost of construction materials and installation services. For instance, don't have loose, friable fibres in areas which are subject to a lot of air movement and trade activity. Caveat Emptor. There has been a recent case at a pharmaceutical plant near Toronto, where ceramic fibre insulation had to be installed in conditions similar to asbestos removal. Tented off and in negative air. In other places, no one would bat an eyelash if you used the stuff as sandwich spread. If you punch the words carcinogen and MMMF into a WWW search engine, you will find all sorts of information - not all of it pleasant. If you have just spent money on removing asbestos from your building, you may be inclined to try to keep away from replacing this with more fibres. It comes down to this: If you use common sense, PPE and local exhaust, launder your clothes separately, measure the fibre concentration in your work area and know exactly what you are dealing with, you can take sufficient precautions to protect yourself. Those precautions come with government guides as well as the product data. If your building has an adversarial work climate and hordes of workers may be working very close to the fibres, such as around insulated piping or fibrous spray fireproofing, without the benefit of caution and common sense, you may release more respirable fibres than is tolerable and perhaps someone will want to blame an illness on fibre exposure in your building. There have been cases of this. Due diligence on your part in terms of the implementation of proper industrial hygiene procedures can go a long way towards protecting you from such claims. One must also clearly be aware of the cost factors and just what one may use instead of MMMF. Not all alternatives are perfect either. Lightweight mineral insulations may contain crystalline silica (quartz), which is a designated substance (check the MSDS), assuredly bad for you, if inhaled in sufficient quantities. And fibre remains a low cost product, compared to many alternatives - at least in the initial purchase cost, which is predominantly the limit of how far many folks look in terms of their product choices. The more you know, the smarter your choices.

Here is the original article:

MAN-MADE-MINERAL-FIBRES - Carcinogens?

Certain sectors of the construction industry are still living with the consequences of the asbestos litigations of years past. People, construction workers, have died of cancer and their deaths have been blamed squarely on asbestos exposure.

More importantly, the hazards of asbestos exposure were known in the 1930's, and the fact that this knowledge was denied, has compounded the problem for those accused, since there was a reasonable doubt or suspicion, which was accessible for years, to producers and buyers of this natural mineral known as asbestos.

Apart from the establishment of the asbestos removal business, there was also a great replacement of asbestos based products with MAN-MADE-MINERAL-FIBRES in a plethora of applications, including heat generating equipment lining and the multitude of uses in building construction.

There are three types of MMMF (in order of fire resistance and hazard level from lowest to highest):

1. fibreglass

2. rockwool

3. ceramic fibres

Since 1971, an enormous amount of study (worldwide) has gone into the effects of MMMF on various mammals and man. The results are controversial. Of course, there are two camps representing each side (the sides being "PRO" and "ANTI" MMMF). The PRO side is clearly manufacturers and others who stand to gain financially from the sale of MMMF products. The "ANTI" side does not appear to be an organized or even identifiable group of individuals or companies.

The PRO side sponsored and published studies into the effects of MMMF exposure can generally be summed up as saying that normal workplace exposures present no threat. MMMF manufacturers are also quick to point out that studies generating dead test animals or severely sick animals ("specimens") are due to ridiculous means of exposure, i.e. implantations, dust exposures much higher than normal, rectal injections etc.

Accordingly, manufacturers have warned users on their labels and MSDS of the potential cancer causing effects of MMMF exposure, while belittling the basis of the data in MMMF studies with negative results. In Italy, three local fibreglass manufacturers attempted to put an end to the debate by commissioning Professor Franco Valfre and Professor Gaetano Cecchetti of the University of Rome, to conduct "Toxicological Research on Glass Fibres". The report, dated September 1993, was intended by the sponsors to show that realistic workplace exposures of glass fibres (again, the least hazardous of the three MMMF) yielded no problems whatsoever. The report was, however, never published, due to the documented onset of infections and lesions, where fibreglass provoked microphlogosis in the lung tissue, facilitating the attack of the microorganisms responsible for the infections. In other words, even when the animals did not die, their quality of life was severely diminished. Project these problems onto humans and the translation to skyrocketing health care costs appears obvious, along with the increased probability of litigation.

In Canada, the issue has been studied and documented in the Priority Substances List Assessment Report on Mineral Fibres (Man-Made-Vitreous-Fibres), issued by Environment Canada and Health Canada. This report is available from the Canada Communication Group - Publishing, Ottawa, ON K1A 0S9.

It concludes as follows:

"On the basis of available data, refractory ceramic fibre has been classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans", and therefore, it has been concluded that this substance may enter the environment in quantities or under conditions that may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health."

Fibreglass and rockwool are not considered such, however, the recommendation at the end of the document points out that further study is required.

Twice the recommendation points out that it is particularly the studies of TIMA (Thermal Insulation Manufacturers Association - the "PRO-fibre" side) that will be evaluated for reconsideration.

The Canadian government report did not include in its considerations the above mentioned Italian study, which documented a multitude of health problems resulting from what the manufacturers deemed to be a realistic workplace exposure. When confronted with it after the fact, Health Canada could not change the outcome of the recommendations, since the report concludes that further study was recommended. Obviously, it is not in the interest of the 3 sponsoring fibreglass manufacturers to further fund a study, which is contrary to their goals and interests.

Nonetheless, caution around fibres is growing worldwide. Australia, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany are implementing increasing obstacles to the efficient use of MMMF. The NTP (National Toxicology Program) in the US has classified fibreglass and rockwool as suspected carcinogens as well.

So what does all this mean to the Canadian construction industry? There are some basic facts to be aware of in terms of the use of MMMF:

1. People who abuse their health with nicotine, caffeine, high protein, high dairy and high fat diets, are more likely to become susceptible to disease than others. Smoking in combination with fibre exposure is known to increase chances of lung disease and cancer. Diets of high protein, dairy, fat, processed foods, processed sugars etc, increase acidosis in the body, which increases mucous and invites many dis-eases. Add on the fibre factor, and this pathological process is certainly accelerated. As a result, a large percentage of construction workers can be considered HIGH-RISK.

2. Knowing that we are dealing with a high risk population on Canadian construction sites, increases the likelihood of litigation, once enough attorneys become aware of the fact. The problem then becomes one of perceptions. It is not unlikely, that suits will result, were illness is blamed on exposure to known carcinogens (i.e.MMMF and crystalline silica), even though this may only be part of the cause. Refusal to wear adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), which is cumbersome and not subject to sufficient control and enforcement, along with lifestyle factors such as diet, mental/emotional state etc. may even be greater contributors to a patient's dis-ease. However, one may successfully argue that exposure to MMMF can be deemed a catalyst and accelerator to pathology, which by itself may have shaved a few years of a worker's life.

3. Replacements of MMMF are possible, given currently available technology. For instance, the most hazardous of the three fibres now is ceramic fibre. In construction it is sometimes used to wrap ducting (i.e. kitchen exhaust and pressurization), or as a packing material in joint and penetration firestopping. The wraps can be replaced with cementitious boards and the packing in joints and penetrations need not always be fibrous. Firestop mortars, for instance, require no packing. Multi Cable Transits and intumescents generally survive quite nicely without any fibres whatsoever. Cavity insulation can be accomplished with perlite. Board insulation is also available in various organic foams (although these can add to fuel loading) as well as calcium silicate block, perlite block, etc.

4. Some MMMF manufacturers have attempted to thwart the inevitable onset of fibrephobia by wrapping their fibre-blankets in plastic film or aluminum foil. These, naturally, are quickly shredded in the reality of building construction, where duct wrappings touch other building services; penetration stuffing with fibres permits no wrappings and other blanket insulation coverings are quickly severed in shipping and handling and installation. To rely on these coverings is certainly a judgment call to be made by all those involved in their specification, purchase, handling, shipping, storage and use.

5. Ceramic fibre in particular but generally all MMMF become more friable and hazardous once exposed to sufficient fire. The aftermath and clean-up once a fire has occurred, of course, can take on a much larger scale and proportion, similar to current asbestos abatement work.

In summary, the red flag is up and the jury is out on all MMMF. Ceramic fibre is now the most beleaguered of the 3 MMMF. But rockwool and fibreglass are under close scrutiny. To avoid becoming part of possible litigation (whether justified or not), it is prudent to consider MMMF-free insulations and passive fire protection materials as alternatives to ceramic fibre, rockwool and fibreglass. The perception of all MMMF as carcinogens (cancer causing) and lung disease causing agents is growing worldwide. The likelihood of MMMF as being a prime factor in causing such disease cannot definitely be quantified in terms of percentage, as each case differs. However, the likelihood of MMMF and supporters thereof (including manufacturers, specifiers, consultants, contractors, distributors) being blamed for disease and the resulting costs is leaping forward as the news spread. This is evident also from the lessons learned in asbestos removal, lead paint abatement, PCB abatement and so forth. Perceptions are a powerful thing. Experts may still debate the issue 20 years from now. Reasonable suspicion, however, is well documented and can be considered to be public information.

Theoretically, it is not illegal to work with any highly hazardous substance. There is no jail term associated with the purchase and use of asbestos, cyanide or any other lethal substance. The issue at hand, however, is the cost efficiency of the use of the substances. If regulations and restrictions govern said use that make it hopelessly inefficient to use MMMF on a competitive, and perhaps moral, basis, why bother? It is not today's legislation that will cause tomorrow's litigation in terms of the use of a hazardous substance. It is the interpretation of today's public information that will be the deciding factor in future litigation involving MMMF and those who will either become ill from them or who will blame their pathology on MMMF and those accused of or deemed to be responsible for bringing the patient and the substance in contact with one another. Undoubtedly, at this point, caution is due, replacement of MMMF with fibre-free alternatives warranted - even if this may initially seem more costly. This course of action should be the least of the lessons learned from the asbestos, lead and PCB abatement history.

END OF ORIGINAL ARTICLE

This article is superseded by the updated comments shown above on this page.

Related Links:

Against MMMF

For MMMF

Fiberglass Information Network

ParPac Good News Re-used

Consumer Law Page

Naima - The Lisbon Declaration

IARC degrades rockwool from 2b to 3

National Insulation Association

FESI Members

Firestop Site

Main Site

Glossary

Contact

Main Site

Firestop Site

Code Evaluations AVAILABLE!

Glossary of Fire Protection Terms

3M Fire Barriers

Vectorising Drawings and Maps; Paper to CAD

Circuit Integrity Fireproofing

Bounding

Code Req's for Firestops

Essay on Performance Based Codes

Master Spec. Section 07840 Firestopping

Related Sections to 07840

Penetration Seal Drawings

Building Joint Drawings 1

Building Joint Drawings 2

Building Joint Drawings 3

History of Firestops in North America

Warnock Hersey Experience

Firestop Trade Jurisdiction

Achim Hering Bio

Man Made Mineral Fibres

Fire Protection Industry Links

Firestop Products and Equipment

Firestop Mortar

Firestop Silicone Foam

Intumescent Products

Endothermic Products

Insulation Products

Caulking & Paint Firestops

Firestop Pillows

Firestop Devices

Firestop Slide Show 1 of 10 Basics

Firestop Slide Show 2 of 10 Code

Firestop Slide Show 3 of 10 No Seal

Firestop Slide Show 4 of 10 Deemed-to-comply

Firestop Slide Show 5 of 10 Misinstalled

Firestop Slide Show 6 of 10 Re-entered

Firestop Slide Show 7 of 10 Faulty Spec.

Firestop Slide Show 8 of 10 Proper Firestops

Firestop Slide Show 9 of 10 Test

Firestop Slide Show 10 of 10 Smoke and Trays

Sample Firestop Listing

Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning; Boiling-Hot Pressure Washing

ULC           UL

T O S

(Theory of Survival)

DIBt

TU Braunschweig iBMB

CONTACT

1