Can fibreglass insulation give you cancer?

Is there any truth in the rumour that fibreglass insulation gives you cancer? The short answer is… no! Here, we will run you through where we think the rumour came from, and whether there is anything behind it.

We are constantly told that things will give us cancer, from red meat to scented candles, and it’s easy to get scared once the ‘C’ word has been mentioned. However, it looks like this particular claim is unsubstantiated.

Health effects of fibreglass insulation

Fibreglass is a popular choice of insulation due to its cheap cost and relatively good thermal performance. It’s a manmade material; as the name suggests, glass is spun into tiny fibres and then gathered together to form a wool-like texture.

You’re probably familiar with one nasty side effect of fibreglass: it’s itchy as hell if you get near enough. The nature of the insulation means its fibres can come loose and stick to your skin, and to your nose, mouth and eyes. It can also irritate your lungs if you inhale a lot of it, causing coughing and discomfort for a couple of days after. For this reason, we would always recommend that you wear a mask and a disposable boiler suit if you’re going to be exposed to fibreglass for long periods of time.

However, medical experts have ruled – after decades of studies- that there is no link between fibreglass and cancer. In 2001, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) updated the classification of mineral wool from “possible carcinogenic to humans” to “Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.

So it doesn’t cause cancer, but it can cause irritation to the skin, nose, eyes and lungs if you touch it, or if you are exposed to it at close range for long periods of time. Therefore, the people most likely to be affected are the people installing it. You probably won’t suffer for going up into your attic a couple of times a year. Although we’re not scientists, it seems fibreglass poses very little threat – if any- to the average homeowner!

Why do people think fibreglass insulation causes cancer?

We often hear about salesmen cold-calling people to ‘warning’ them that they’re in danger if they have fibreglass insulation. They tell you it’s bad for your health so that they can charge you to remove it and replace it with (often ineffective) spray foam insulation. So it’s within their interests to spread this particular piece of scaremongering, which is presumably why the rumour persists.

Lets just say that whilst fibreglass is not the most pleasant material, it is actually very effective at insulating, and jumping to change it to an alternative is not necessary for most households. Whilst there may be some situations where switching to an alternative is a good proposition, this should not be the default position.

What are the alternatives to fibreglass insulation?

If you want to avoid all worry about toxic ingredients, you could consider getting natural sheep wool insulation instead. It’s a bit more expensive, but a lot more effective in several ways. But if you’re happy with how your fibreglass insulation performs, and you don’t come face-to-face with it from one month to the next, we’d probably recommend not letting people scare you with the ‘cancer’ threat.

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