SafeTouch Polyester Insulation: Healthy, but Is It Green?

A roll of insulation being installed in a room.

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We have noted that UltraTouch insulation from recycled cotton is great stuff, but I still get upset when I see their pictures of kids putting their heads on it; it has borax, a known respiratory irritant, added as a fire retardant and to keep out vermin. All cellulose insulations do.

Now Alex Wilson at BuildingGreen shows us a non-cellulose alternative to the dreaded fiberglass: Dow Ultratouch, made from 100% polyester.

It contains no flame retardant, which surprised Alex. He writes:

I was surprised about the lack of flame retardant in SafeTouch, especially since polyester is a thermoplastic (a type of plastic that melts), but [Dow research specialist Brent] Salamon assured me that the company purchases standard polyester fiber--not polyester that has been treated with flame retardant. "Through selection of the fibers, we're able to pass the test," he told me, referring to the flame spread number of less than 25 and smoke-developed number of less that 450. "It meets the requirements of the building code," said Salamon.
Salamon explained that in a fire, the fibers melt and "tend to pull away from the fire." I confirmed this with some very anecdotal testing I conducted (outside!). Exposed to a match, the fibers quickly melted and pulled away from the flame, but did not burst into flame. I still wonder about the fire-safety of the product, however.

If one were designing a Healthy House for a hypo-allergenic client, it certainly would appear that this product is pretty benign, with absolutely no VOCs and outgassing of any kind.

However, unlike Ultratouch, Safetouch is made from vigin polyester, a major component of which is Mono Ethylene Glycol, made from fossil fuels. Dow says recycled content "will be included in the near future," but we do not know what proportion or when.

Every choice has its tradeoffs; fiberglass is cheap and nonflammable; foams seal tightly and give the best R value; cellulose is made from recycled materials. Safetouch is probably the healthiest insulation around, but until it is made from recycled polyester, I have trouble calling it green. More at SafeTouch via Buildinggreen