Flammable Insulation Foams and Claddding Produced with a Hydrocarbon Blowing Agents

A Gas Tester’s Experience

Some time ago, I was called to a suspected gas escape in a large supermarket. The gas transporter’s engineer described how he was finding flammable gases in the cavity of the building wherever he tested. It didn’t matter where stuck his probe, he immediately found flammable gas readings which quickly disappeared.

Further investigation found the cavity was full of insulation foam which we sampled and took back to our laboratory for testing. The analysis found the foam was manufactured using a pentane blowing agent which was released each time the engineer pierced the bubble like structure with his sampling probe.

Since then we have been called to numerous jobs of a similar nature.

A Bit of Background

For environmental reasons, modern insulating foams are generally blown with hydrocarbon blowing agents, usually cyclopentane, but they can also include n-pentane and iso-pentane.

Hydrocarbon blowing agents have replaced the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC’s) blowing agents which are ozone depleting substances and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s) that are highly globally warming.

As hydrocarbons are not ozone depleting or highly globally warming, they are now used in the manufacture of insulation foams; however, hydrocarbons such pentane are highly flammable and can make the foam a significant fire risk.

Now we don’t know if these are to blame for the recent terrible events and ongoing investigations into flammable construction materials, but the author of this short blog did feel at the time of this coming to light, the use of such materials in construction was ill advised.

But for all you who undertake gas testing ,it is a useful piece of information to store away, just incase you find yourself in a similar situation.

Maybe if people listened a little more from expert gas testers, the world would be a safer place.

By a gas utility scientist @gt

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