On May 29, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new regulations that can potentially limit how much formaldehyde may be emitted from hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard and finished goods—including engineered wood flooring. The rules would apply to products that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured or imported in the United States.
According to an article on the Environment News Service website, “formaldehyde is used in adhesives that make up composite building materials…[t]he emitted formaldehyde can be left over from the resin or composite wood making process or be released when the resin degrades in the presence of heat and humidity. The highest potential exposure occurs when workers breathe contaminated workplace air.”
The guidelines are a result of the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite-Wood Products Act of 2010, which directed the EPA and other federal agencies to develop methods of enforcing emissions standards. The 2010 law was based on the California Air Resource Board (CARB) model, which aimed to regulate emissions from all possible sources, including the formaldehyde from resins used to create plywood and engineered wood flooring.
The EPA’s standard would set limits on how much formaldehyde may be released by composite wood products. It sets standards for testing, product labeling, chain of custody documentation and enforcement. According to the EPA’s description of the regulations, they also include “protective yet common sense exemptions from some testing and recordkeeping requirements for products made with no-added formaldehyde (NAF) resins.”
Creating a framework for a third-party certification system, the rules would make these parties responsible for auditing composite wood panel producers, conducting formaldehyde emissions tests and ensuring manufacturers’ quality control procedures comply with the Toxic Substance Control Act Title VI regulations.
The EPA’s formaldehyde factsheet states, “Most manufacturers are already following requirements for composite wood products already in place in California so that they are able to sell in any state. The EPA proposals provide one national standard thus preventing a patchwork of different state requirements and providing a level playing-field between states and between American companies and importers. EPA estimates that formaldehyde concentrations in new and renovated homes will be reduced by 9 percent to 25 percent when the rules are final. EPA also anticipates that the proposed rules will encourage the ongoing trend by industry towards switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in products.”
As per EPA estimates, approximately 880,000 small businesses would feel the impact of the new rules. According to estimated figures, the net benefit of the regulations would be a 9% to 25% reduction in formaldehyde levels in new or remodeled homes.
“The proposed regulations…reflect EPA’s continued efforts to protect the public from exposure to harmful chemicals in their daily lives,” said James J. Jones, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Once final, the rules will reduce the public’s exposure to this harmful chemical found in many products in our homes and workplaces”
According to the EPA, formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, and high levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers. In the meantime, the EPA suggests individuals research formaldehyde content of pressed wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture, before purchase.
The agency also advises use of “exterior-grade” pressed wood product. These options emit smaller amounts of formaldehyde because they contain phenol resins instead of not urea resins. Also recommended is increased ventilation, especially after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home. The EPA suggests using air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
The EPA accepts public feedback on the new rules. If interested in submitting, individuals have 60 days from the date the rules are published in the Federal Register to submit comments.
The proposed rules can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/ chemtest/formaldehyde/2013-05-28_PrePublicationCopy_ Formaldehyde-Implemen tation_NPRM_FRL9342-3.pdf and http://www.epa.gov/ chemtest/formaldehyde/2013-05-28_Pre-Publication-Copy_Formaldehyde-TPCs-NPRM_FRL-9342-4.pdf