From Environmental Health News:

A shift to a bio-based raw material can reduce several chemical hazards associated with making one of the most popular plastics – polyurethanes – in production today, researchers report in the journal Green Chemistry. The new process means polyurethane plastic may be less hazardous to make and easier to break down in the environment.

Polyurethanes are a family of commodity plastics very commonly encountered in everyday life. They are widely used in industrial, automotive, engineering and medical applications and are found in a large range of products, including paints, foams, adhesives and coatings.

The new process for making polyurethanes focuses on one class called polycarbonate urethanes. These are found commercially in coatings and medical devices.

Almost all polyurethanes are prepared from chemicals called isocyanates. Most isocyanates are acutely toxic and pose a health risk to workers during manfacturing and to people who live in the communities surrounding the facilities.

The manufacturing of polyurethanes usually relies on toxic metal catalysts that can be released from the products into the environment. Research has shown that environmental exposures to these chemicals can lead to disruption of hormonal processes in animals.