Blowing Agent Busybodies

Every so often I hear about a dumb idea (and have been known to produce a few of them myself).  And I always say – predictably – “That’s dumb.”  I recently heard about a new environmental regulation coming down the pike that is a shoe-in for the dumb category.  It’s called “GWP,” and it will ultimately affect the way you live and the products you are “allowed” to use.

In the early 1980’s, as a young man, I observed a spray foam (SPF) roof being applied on a commercial building in Columbus Ohio.  I discovered two things that day: It was magic (or so it seemed), and I was hooked.

In 1985 I purchased my first foam machine for use in commercial roofing applications.  Business grew rapidly over the next three years, due to hard work, and the amazing abilities of the polyurethane molecule.  What made spray foam work when you pulled the trigger was chemical reaction and a special ingredient called a “blowing agent.”  And from 1960 to 1993 the blowing agent of choice was R11 Freon (CFCI3).

R11 foam did everything well.  It had excellent adhesion—it stuck to almost anything.  It had tremendous cohesion—meaning that it stuck well to itself.  That’s important for a material that is usually applied in layers or “lifts.”  R11 foam had exceptional insulation value, the best in the world for residential and commercial insulation purposes.  It saved people millions of btu’s of energy (hence money) through incredible energy efficiency!  It had a boiling point of 74°, which made it easy to work with in all seasons.  With SPF increasing its market share each year, it had a bright future indeed.

That is, until 1987, when a group of green-blooded avant-garde progressives met in Montreal to save us from ourselves.  These same quixotic individuals—who in the 1970s predicted an oncoming ice-age—needed a new windmill to attack, and they found one in Freon (CFC).  They claimed that CFC’s were eating a hole in our atmosphere like a hungry boy munching on an apple, and on September 16, 1987, the Montreal protocol was signed into an international treaty.

The protocol demanded that the SPF industry in America stop using R11 as a blowing agent by 1993. And the EPA—whose motto is, “If it isn’t broke, keep fixing it until it is”—was happy to oblige.  1993 was a challenging year, as R11 foam was replaced with a new blowing agent—141b.  Though we had five industry suppliers of 141b, the new foam had several quirks.  Feather edges (the thin edge of the spray pattern where it sticks to another layer of material) tended to shrink as they cooled down, and it was more difficult to mix properly.  This compromised adhesion and cohesion and caused various SPF failures until we learned how to work with it.

There is no doubt in my mind that the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster was a direct result of environmentalist tampering with spray foam blowing agents.  I purchase our SPF from the same company that supplied NASA with foam for the space shuttle fuel pods, and I personally witnessed many of the adhesion and cohesion issues that resulted from the mandated blowing agent change.  But we worked through these growing pains and used 141b foams until 2004.  Then the EPA came calling again.

In 2004, the EPA mandated the phase out of 141b even though 141b removed about 98% of the CFC’s that were getting blamed for an ozone hole — that had always correlated well with sunspot cycles but poorly with CFC emissions — which was already healing itself.  This demanded a new blowing agent, and only one company produced one—Honeywell.

So we went from five suppliers of 141b to one supplier of 245fa.  Can you say linear monopoly?  I can, and the raw price of spray foam nearly doubled from 2004 to 2006.  Only three entities were happy.  The EPA, Honeywell, and a lethargic fiberglass “insulation” industry were all smiles.  The overstuffed save-us-from-ourselves-one-dumb-law-at-a-time environmentalists had struck again.  Their claim to be the custodians of the earth barely conceals their real desire — which is to become the supervisor of your life and your wallet.  (I know these things because of 31 years in the SPF industry.  I was also personally interviewed by the FTC when they finally got around to investigating monopolies in the SPF industry.  They chose to ignore the Honeywell blowing agent monopoly, thanks to a large Honeywell lobbying effort.)

245fa foam was essentially twice the price, and it had a 59° boiling point, which made it prone to overheating in the drums during summer months.  Though more difficult to work with, we adapted and soldiered on.  Everyone should be happy now, right?

Nope.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently come up with a new guilty-before-proven-innocent method to tax a lot of desirable materials—materials that make life easier, safer, and more comfortable for you and me—out of existence.  It’s called Global Warming Potential (GWP).  This provides the EPA with a brand new opportunity to impose burdensome regulations on remarkable products.  I’m sure they won’t miss the chance.

So how should we Advent Christians respond to the volume and fervor of the current Global Warming/Climate Change debate?  It helps to remember that we were created to be stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:28), not worshippers of it (Romans 1:25).  It also helps to be aware of the facts, even though facts regarding CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming) are not easy to come by.  

The data being used to support anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming is typically based on small data sets, single samples, or measurements taken in completely different regions.  This creates an uncertainty in the results that rarely gets the attention that alarmist conclusions do.  

Today we are told by the politically motivated that there is a consensus.  There isn't.  This “consensus,” as with many other scientific theories, can be partially explained by a growing hostility to those with differing viewpoints.  This brings us to the point that global warming initiatives are already being linked to Sunday observance as an additional way to combat climate change through reduced carbon.  Look for an article soon on this very topic -- involving a major Christian group.  I wrote this article to prepare the way for it. 

Until then, stay cool friends!  Or warm — depending on how the scaremongers feel that week.


This article was solicited in 2015.  Gerry Wagoner is President of WRi Applications LLC in Ohio and a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.