Despite many popular beliefs, polystyrene is no more damageable than other materials when burning. This is important information, as it is frequently used for home insulation and in the industrial sector. It can be found as an insulator in walls, floors, roofs, ceilings, etc. On the other hand, it can also be used for the manufacturing of product components, packaging, insulating boxes and many other!
Expanded polystyrene is not as toxic or harmful as one would think. Indeed, it is a hydrocarbon compound derived from petroleum, meaning it reacts to fire the same way other organic materials, such as wool, paper, cotton and silk. In the construction sector, its reaction is similar to the wood from framework or doors. EPS burns and emits energy, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapour and soot, but no other gas. In fact, the black smoke emitted by EPS combustion is less harmful than the smoke coming from organic materials, and less toxic than fumes of a burning fir tree, pressed wood or expanded cork.
Expanded polystyrene is made of 98% air and 2% material, which differentiates it from other materials. Indeed, in the manufacturing process, the polystyrene is expanded with water vapour. Therefore, there is no chemical process. Moreover, when exposed to heat, it does not emit toxic gas, as it is inert material with great calorific capacities allowing it to absorb energy.
Therefore, there are no worries in using EPS for building insulation. In fact, it is a great thermal insulation material that can even contribute to points allowance in LEED® projects. In the industrial environment, EPS is often used in doors manufacturing, for example, as it will not accelerate flame propagation: As soon as the EPS is taken out of the flames, the fire will extinguish itself!