For any responsible industry, the assessment of possible effects that its products may have on health and the environment is an essential aspect of industry and product sustainability. Many studies, including epidemiological ones, have been conducted by well recognized laboratories since the 1970s to look for any adverse health effects related to exposure to mineral wool fibres. Mineral wool is probably the most closely scrutinised and most widely studied products among construction materials. Since 1965 more than 1 000 studies have been carried out by recognised scientists including in Europe and in the United States.
These results have been analyzed to support official assessments in Europe and in other countries.
Mineral Wool manufacturers in the European Union have registered mineral wool fibres under REACH1 with the following definition: "Man-made vitreous (silicate) fibres with random orientation with alkaline oxide and alkali earth oxide (Na2O+K2O+CaO+MgO+BaO) content greater than 18% by weight and fulfilling one of the nota Q conditions"
Under the European Regulation REACH and the Globally Harmonized System, these fibres are not classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) nor, more generally, as a Substance of Very High Concern.
Based on a lot of studies and judgement of 19 recognized experts from several countries, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the World Health Organisation – has in October 2001 updated the classification of mineral wool from group 2B "possible carcinogenic to humans" to group 3 "Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans".
"Epidemiologic studies published during the 15 years since the previous IARC Monographs review of these fibres in 1988 provide no evidence of increased risks of lung cancer or of mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the body cavities) from occupational exposures during manufacture of these materials, and inadequate evidence overall of any cancer risk." IARC press release, October 2001.
Mineral wool fibres are not classified in the European Regulation for the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures as a hazardous substance if they fulfil criteria defined in said Regulation2. This is monitored by EUCEB, the European Certification Board for mineral wool products.
EUCEB-certified products can be recognized by the EUCEB trademark on their packaging.
EUCEB (European Certification Board for mineral wool products) is a voluntary initiative by the mineral wool industry. It is a certification authority that monitors that mineral wool products are made of fibres not classified in Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008. To ensure that fibres comply with the Note Q criteria, all tests and supervision procedures are conducted by independent and qualified experts and institutions.
Manufacturers’ commitments to get their products EUCEB certified are the following:
EUCEB is certified ISO 9001:2008.
More information and the list of EUCEB-certified production sites is available at www.euceb.org
Mineral wool products may cause temporary skin itching due to the well-known mechanical effect of fibres of coarse fibres. Mineral wool fibres are not classified as skin irritant (Regulation (EC) No 790/2009).
Nevertheless, Eurima members are staying ahead of the game by developing pictorial packaging communication standards to ensure that the installation is safe, clean, and conforms to local regulations, the use of which is monitored by Eurima on a yearly basis.
Safe Use Instruction Sheets similar to Safety data sheet are available from each producer.
Information that can be seen on the packaging of mineral wool products in the European Union is the following statement “The mechanical effect of fibres in contact with skin may cause temporary itching” plus either the text below or the set of pictograms with respective explanation:
When installing insulation in unventilated spaces, wear a suitable disposable face mask. When handling products, cover any exposed skin. Wear goggles when working with products overhead. Dispose of waste in accordance with local regulations. Clean the area using vacuum equipment. If itching occurs, it may be alleviated by rinsing in cold water prior to washing.
Mineral wool fibres represent only a minute proportion if any of respirable particles and fibres present in the atmosphere. In building, concentration levels are similar to outside concentration in the order of 0.0002 to 0.005 fibre/ml, in other words 1/200th of the recommended occupational exposure limit value3.
An occupational exposure limit value of 1 fibre/ml exists in some countries. This value is an indicative one only. Measurements results show that exposure to mineral wool fibres is actually 5-10 times lower than this limit. It has been demonstrated also that keeping the total dust (not otherwise specified) exposure level below10 mg/m3 allows having an exposure level to mineral wool fibres below 1 fibre/ml.
|Types of application||Number of measurements||Average (f/ml)||Median (f/ml)||Probability of exceeding the ELV (1 f/ml)|
|Walls - Mineral wool on steel framework||9||0.10||0.07||0.07%|
|Walls - Lining complex||7||0.23||0.19||2.01%|
|Roofs - Tamping mineral wool||8||0.09||0.05||0.12%|
|Rampant - Mineral wool||4||0.008||0.006||0%|
|Gunning - Mineral wool (feeding operator)||6||0.07||0.06||0%|
|Gunning - Mineral wool (slinger)||10||0.07||0.06||0%|
Comprehensive studies done on full scale chambers have demonstrated that mineral wool insulation products do not contribute to the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) or formaldehyde indoor air pollution.
Mineral wool insulation also contributes to outdoor air quality. A recent study from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) considered the effects of building insulation on ground outdoor air concentration levels of air pollutants. DMI estimated the reductions in air pollution when comparing business as usual with very low energy building scenarios between 2005 and 2020 as regional averages in the EU-25.
The results revealed statistically significant decrease in ground-level mass concentration of main air pollutants when comparing the insulated and non-insulated scenarios.
Because of mineral wool non combustibility, there is no contribution to the fire load of buildings. As a result, mineral wool products in a building allows for improved fire safety. Thanks to this, mineral wool products contain no flame retardant chemicals.
Mineral wool products can provide a very high level of noise adsorption, a property which is utilized efficiently in mineral wool acoustic ceilings.
Mineral wool insulation in walls, roofs and under floors prevents noise from outside - or from adjacent rooms - penetrating the building.
Mineral wool products can ensure a good acoustical indoor environment.
Durability is defined as the ability of a product to maintain the performance of a certain property for a certain time.
For mineral wool products the durability aspect is assessed in accordance with the mineral wool product standards EN 13162 (products for building insulation) and EN 14303 (products for building equipment and industrial installations).
In general mineral wool products, used in applications in accordance with these product standards, can be assessed to have durability as long as the lifetime of the building components or installations in which they are built.
Mineral wool products are both water repellent and moisture resistant. Moisture and nutrient are necessary conditions for mould growth. Since more then 95% of the mass of mineral wool products are inorganic, there is little nutrient source to allow fungi/mould growth. Thanks to this, mineral wool products contain no biocide.
1 Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European parliament and of the Council concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals
2 Note Q of Regulation (EC) n° 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures updated by Regulation (EC) n°790/2009
3 Sources : Schneider T., Burdett G., Martinon L., Brochard P., Guillemin M., Teicher U., Olsen E., Dräger U., “Ubiquitous fibre exposure in Europe, A pilot study”, 1995.