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Spray foam in ground

dinnerbellmel | Posted in General Questions on

I don’t know if anyone has an opinion about this but I thought I’d post it here. My wife and I had a new home built that was completed in April…that is…completed until 2 days before we move in there was a major fire that was written off by our insurance company as a total loss. This home was spray foamed (closed cell) throughout and had Superior Walls with the blue Dow insulation. The fire ran under the trusses and destroyed the inside but the exterior walls and foam are intact.

Anyway, after tears were shed we are focusing on rebuilding it better than before. The house was demo’d and the amount of foam in the ground is considerable. Does anyone have an opinion or thoughts on the environmental impact of this foam? The Superior Walls had the white foam too that breaks down into many little tiny balls which seem to be everywhere. My wife is concerned that the foam will leach chemicals into the ground or contaminate our well and her garden soil. The builder did his best to contain it but there was just so much he could do. The trucks run over it and there is just so much of it there is no way we can clean it all up. Any thoughts on whether the foam will contaminate the earth?

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Mel,
    There are many types of spray foam. I don't know the answer to your question.

    Because you asked about "the white foam that breaks down into many little tiny balls," I did some Googling to learn about polystyrene in the soil.

    One researcher looking into the use of polystyrene in planting mixes concluded that "Physical blending of polystyrene is a problem due to its extreme low density and nonwetability. In addition, perlite enhances total porosity and moisture retention to a greater extent than polystyrene. Dry bulk densities are lower in polystyrene mixes than in perlite mixes but differences are not great. Wet bulk densities are lower in polystyrene mixes due primarily to low moisture retention of polystyrene. Polystyrene should not be steamed because of loss of volume and structure. Soil mix pore space is the key factor in determining the quality of a soil mix. This space provides moisture holding capacity, oxygen supply for roots and space for root development. Since polystyrene products as tested here detract from rather than enhance these properties, their use in growing media must be considered counter productive."

    Another web site notes, "Foam doesn't break down easily in the environment, which means it's unlikely to degrade in a vegetable gardening container so it's safe to use as filler. Although some chemicals in the foam can leach out if it gets overheated -- such as when you heat a foam cup of coffee in the microwave -- it doesn't leach chemicals under normal temperature circumstances, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine."

    One final point: When soil gets contaminated, clean-up efforts often involve removing 12 inches of topsoil and trucking it to a different location. The contaminated soil is then replaced by new clean topsoil. I don't think it is unreasonable for you to request that your insurance company pay for this work. After all, as a result of the fire your topsoil is not the same as it used to be.

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