The New World of Polymers

The facts about polyesters, vinyl esters and epoxies

If you take the time and read this article you will become an intelligent consumer regarding polymers.

Chances are with this information you will never buy a vinyl ester gelcoat to restore your old fiberglass pool.

Remember, no manufacturer or contractor on the internet selling a DIY for a vinyl ester gelcoat, will offer any warranty.

When the word fiberglass was first introduced people thought of it as a plastic. One of the first signs of fiberglass being used for a given product was first noticed during World War II when a German plane was shot down in England and the propeller of the plane was made of fiberglass. The English and Americans were dumb-founded. After the war the space race was on and plastics began to show up everywhere. The fact that certain plastics and all fiberglasses continuously give off emissions and can be toxic to the environment was not known until recently. One example of this can be found when people put certain plastic food containers in microwaves and toxic elements are released into the food. Another example is drinking water tanks made out of fiberglass & gel coats where the fiberglass & gel coat breaks down and releases styrene and oils into the water causing people to become very ill. Have you ever drunk water from a tank and had it taste like plastic?

What we are about to show you are the facts about toxic fiberglass products and why Epoxy is becoming so popular today.

First of all, polyester and vinyl ester resins are ½ the strength of epoxy and, secondly, they do not hold water, nor, can they contain a liquid.

Example: If you rolled or sprayed polyester or vinyl ester resin on a surface of concrete, steel or any substrate, it would not hold water. It dries outward and under a microscope has small holes. Even when you use a polyester or vinyl ester with a fiberglass matting it still will not hold water. You must apply a gelcoat to contain the water. This is a well-known to the boat builders of today. All the gel coat‘s made today are not warranted by the manufacturer for more than one year. This is why most one-piece fiberglass pools and yachts are only warranted for one year on the outer coating.

If you roll out and epoxy resin it will bond to concrete and steel and will film and dry from the top down causing the material to be non-porous. Under a microscope there are no small hydration holes therefore each and every coat of epoxy not only bonds to the material it is being applied to it but is also watertight.

When you walk into a hardware store you will see epoxy used for repairing everything from coffee cups to concrete. Construction companies use epoxy to repair seawalls, tunnels and bridges. Dentists use epoxy for teeth and doctors for bone repair. You never see them using a polyester or vinyl ester product for these repairs: 1) because it will not bond 2) because it is toxic. When a tank or pool is in need of underwater repair it is repaired with epoxy, all underwater repair products are epoxy. No underwater repair materials are made of polyester or vinyl ester. All industrial grade products for coating waste water treatment tanks, chlorine tanks, muriatic acid tanks and fuel tanks are epoxy. Once again there are no polyester or vinyl estertanks anymore.

Standard fiberglass has been outlawed today for any use for food, drinking water, biological, and aquariums. The EPA and OSHA have found that polyesters, vinyl esters and gel coats continue to give off toxic fumes and eventually break down in many cases. Therefore all external and internal coatings must be a certified NSF product. NSF or ANSI products are all epoxies. The Federal Government must certify these products.

Examples of problems with polyesters to vinyl esters and gel coats: in 1979 the biological tanks at a college or coated with a polyester resin which the substrate was made of concrete. While the material was being applied the fumes were so bad all the students had to leave the building and the fire department was called. The EPA shut down the job and made them ventilate the building. The fiberglass and gel coat deteriorated in less than 60 days killing all the fish in the tank.

Some people have complained of the toxic fumes from polyester as far away as ½ mile from the swimming pools being resurfaced in their neighborhood. These fumes have been known to set off pacemakers and cause asthma attacks. (Polyester and vinyl esters increase the heart rate, and to some, can shut down the lungs.)

In the year 2000, a Marriott’s indoor pool was being coated with vinyl ester resin & fiberglass. The fumes became so bad a guest, working out in the fitness room, passed out. When the paramedics arrived, the fumes were so bad the fire department had to be called. The building was evacuated and the job shut down. The company repairing the pool was fined for using an illegal material in an enclosed area. Another company using an epoxy, no odor product, came in and finished the job.

There have been countless reports of people breaking out in rashes after swimming in pools coated with polyesters or vinyl esters & gel coat when the gel coat material deteriorated, allowing fibers to float in the water. At night, when the lights are on in these pools, you could actually see the fibers floating in the water and collecting in the pool filter.

Several companies coating tank interiors with polyesters & vinyl esters , which are very flammable, have had tanks explode, killing the people applying the material. This occurred in 2006 in Virginia. A company was applying a polyester fiberglass in a waste water tank when the tank exploded and 2 people were killed. The company was fined for applying the wrong material and not following any OSHA codes. Jail time is still pending for the company. Polyester and vinyl esters can be ignited by static electricity. Some epoxies, you can apply a torch to them and they will not ignite.

What we are showing you is that polyester, vinyl esters and gel coats were good for the old days, but they are pretty much prehistoric today. They do not and cannot compare to the new epoxies available today.

We have heard that there are epoxies out today that have very little or no odors, with flex enhancers that make them more flexible.The reason a lot of pool builders or boat builders still use the polyesters, vinyl esters and gel coats is that the material is easy to make and is very inexpensive. The epoxies use to be very expensive but due to changes the cost has come down. The EPA is shutting down certain facilities using or manufacturing the polyester and vinyl ester resins. California and Florida do not allow the manufacturing of these products in their states and have made it difficult for facilities to open because of all the environmental problems related to these products. Polyesters, vinyl esters and gel coats are made from crude oils and in the last 5 years 2 refineries that make polyester and vinyl ester shave exploded killing several people in Texas. Epoxy is usually made from soybeans, peanuts and beans making it less expensive to make today and environmentally safe. In the future the EPA will outlaw polyester, vinyl esters and gel coats due to the effect it has on the environment and ozone areas. Lately it has been found that people exposed to polyester, vinyl ester and gel coats, the harsh fumes and solvents used such as zylenes, MEKP, acetone and MEK, are now having health related problems.

Example: Put any of these solvents or resins on your skin and it will penetrate into your blood stream and cause liver or kidney problems. You can feel it burn your skin and in some cases, the polyester and vinyl ester shave burnt holes in people’s tissue. Most water base or alcohol base epoxies will dry on the skin with no irritation at all.

For all these reasons some pool companies and boat builders have realized switching to epoxy cuts down on their cost for cleaning the air, workmen comp, fire restrictions and lawsuits from employees. Epoxy also allows them to build a better, stronger product with less repair and callbacks. If you read the MSDS sheets and containers for polyester, vinyl esters, gel coats and solvents it states they can cause cancer. Some epoxies that are made with zylene or MEK base can be very toxic also. Always look for an epoxy that is water or alcohol base. These are usually a stronger, non toxic, pure polymer of high quality but more expensive to manufacture and cleans up with regular alcohol or vinegar. If you bury polyester or vinyl ester in the ground and in 50 years dig it up it will have rotted or broken apart. If you bury epoxy in the ground for 2000 years, according to tests, it will not have deteriorated at all.

Some companies still using the old systems of fiberglass will never change and their generation will usually not educate themselves about the new world and new products available. After doing some research we have found that most of these companies using the old systems are usually not members of any composite or polymer associations or do not take any seminars or courses to better educate themselves. They will eventually be like the dinosaurs and will slowly fade away. Hopefully, for all of us, they will take these toxic prehistoric products with them.

Environment Today (Document Summary 2006) Monthly NAP News Letter WRITTEN BY THOMAS L. NEWLAND