OTTAWA -- Urea formaldehyde foam insulation was approved for use by a federal government standards-setting body without any discussion of possible health hazards, a federal official said Tuesday.
Alan Bowles, a former standards officer with the Canadian General Standards Board, told the House of Commons health committee the CGSB was not even aware of studies suggesting health hazards until late 1979, after the insulation was approved.
He also acknowledged that manufacturers on the board's UFFI sub-committee urged the product be approved quickly so they could benefit from government aid to homeowners who installed insulation in their houses.
'That was the general route of the industry,' Bowles said. 'That was the nature of their concern.'
The CGSB began studying the foam in 1970 and issued product and installation standards in 1977, Bowles said.
'During the development of the standards, we did not have medical advise,' he added. 'The earliest medical advice we received was in 1979-80, after the standards were developed.'
The insulation was eventually banned in Dec., 1980 after fumes it emits upon crumbling were linked to cancer in experimental animals.
George Brewer, formerly an official with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., told the Commons committee the industry ignored limits on the types of homes in which the foam could be installed.
He recommended approval of the product be withdrawn and quit his position at CMHC when the advice was ignored.
However, Bowles noted, Brewer's complaints 'were not health concerns.'
New Democratic Party MP Ray Skelly, citing growing indications of UFFI health risks and Saskatchewan's opposition to the foam, said Bowles' testimony 'strikes terror in my heart.'
'You've conjured up a picture of a plodding bureaucrat working in splendid isolation,' Skelly said. 'If this is done with all products, we are all in serious trouble.'
Earlier, Campbell Mackie, coordinator of the federal government's UFFI center which supervises the registration of homeowners with UFFI-equipped houses and distributes the government's $5,000 removal grants, said 10 to 20 percent of all UFFI homeowners showed symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning.
He said symptoms -- which include nausea and dizziness -- usually disappeared when fumes were eradicated, but could continue long afterwards.
He said about 25,000 of the estimated 60,000 Canadians owning UFFI homes were registered in the federal program. About 14,000 people had already removed or sealed the foam in their homes, he added.
However, Mackie admitted the program was off to a slow start and blamed delays in finalizing the program's details.
He said the UFFI center planned an advertizing blitz to inform homeowners about the federal grant program, but added 'that is not going to happen until the program is finally determined.'