The federal government took two more steps this week toward insuring the safety of home insulation materials purchased by consumers.
In Chicago Tuesday Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairwoman Susan King provided the first glimpse of new safety standards set for cellulose home insulation. It was the first of 13 meetings scheduled for across the country.
The next day a Federal Trade Commission official released his report on that agency's proposed regulation concerning thermal insulation. He said that the FTC staff may have gone a bit too far in the attempt to simplify the language insulation manufacturers must use to disclose the effectiveness of their products.
CPSC's King, who has only been in office for two months, said that each of the estimated 500 companies manufacturing cellulose insulation in the U.S. will be inspected during the next six months to see if they are meeting the new standards, which assure that the insulation is flame retardant and will not carrode pipes.
"This is an issue of enormous concern to people all around the country," King said. "We estimate that 7-million people will insulate their homes this year."
Cellulose insulation sales soared last year after tax rebates were first proposed for consumers who add insulation to their homes in an effort to save energy. Because other, more popular, types of insulation were in short supply, cellulose became popular. It is made of shredded paper and wood that is treated with a flame-resistant chemical - usually bork acid.
According to King, when the demand soared, the number of cellulose manufacturere doubled because of the small investment needed to produce the insulation. When boric acid became difficult to find, many of the new manufacturers switched to other chemicals that caused new problems, such as corrosion of pipes and electrical wiring.
The new safety standards require that cellulose insulation manufactured on or after Sept. 8 pass a flame test designed to show if flames spread too fast or too far within a certain amount of time.
Meanwhile, FTC official Jack Kahn, in his presiding officer's report on that agency's proposed trade regulation rule, this week took exception with FTC staff findings in an earlier report.
Kahn questioned the rationale of the staff in requiring a notice concerning the importance of proper insulation, and the form of notice needed to warn purchasers that urea formaidehyde foam insulation shrinks and shrinkage reduces the R-value (effectiveness of the insulation.) He called that notice "misleading," contending that "considerable harm, perhaps irreparable, may be done to the manufacturers and sellers of urea formaldehyde foam."
Kahn also felt that the specific wording that the staff used in setting requirements for disclosures by insulation companies in their television, radio and print advertisements was not specific enough. He wanted the staff to use language "more precise," to help the insulation companies know what is required of them.
He also challenged staff eomments that "the record indicates that improper installation and poor workmanship are serious problems confronting purchasers of home insulation." Khan said, "This may be true, but it is a conclusion not supported by this record."
The staff, in the interest of "plain English" had dropped a reference in the regulation to the commission's statement of enforcement policy to television advertising, Kahn said. He asked that the policy statement referred to in the regulation provide a much higher degree of certainty and guidance on what is permitted in advertising.
"That, after all, is what rules are supposed to do; provide a guide to conduct so folks can stay out of trouble with the 'enforcers,'" Kahn said.