From the personal injury lawsuits spawned by formaldehyde composite wood products used in the construction of the FEMA trailers that temporarily housed refugees after Hurricane Katrina, to the Department of Justice enforcement against Lumber Liquidators1 for allegedly misrepresenting the formaldehyde content of laminate flooring imported from China, formaldehyde has become one of the EPA’s new chemical whipping boys. On July 27, 2016, the EPA issued the pre-publication version of its Final Rule on Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products. The EPA worked closely with the California Air Resources Board to ensure consistency with CARB’s existing requirements for composite wood products.
Under the Final Rule2, in August 2017, composite wood products sold, supplied, manufactured or imported must be labeled to be compliant under the new Toxic Substances Control Act Title VI. Composite wood products include hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard and particleboard, plus some household and other finished goods containing composite wood. The EPA is also setting procedures to establish eligibility for third-party certification and accreditation bodies. The establishment of third-party certification under this rule sets the tone for what could evolve into the EPA’s focus under many environmental statutes on “self-policing” through the use of required self-auditing or third-party auditors. John Cruden, the Justice Department’s Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, recently commented that “companies that violate the law, as part of their settlement with us, have to install and use [self-monitoring technology].”
Formaldehyde is a binder commonly used in wood composites. Formaldehyde exposure has been linked to eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, coughing, and allergic reactions. The EPA relied on a report3 released by the Centers for Disease Control, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and concluded that lowering formaldehyde levels in indoor air can improve the health of occupants. The EPA’s rulemaking is also based on the classification of formaldehyde as a human carcinogen based on long-term exposure4. Indoor air quality issues have been a major focus of the EPA’s regulatory agenda.
1In addition to the Justice Department enforcement, on June 16, 2016, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that Lumber Liquidators had agreed not to resume sales of laminate wood flooring previously imported from China.
2On July 10, 2010, President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, which added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act. 15 U.S.C. Section 2697.
3Possible Health Implications From Exposure to Formaldehyde Emitted from Laminate Flooring Samples Tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Centers for Disease Control, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (March 22, 2016).
4HHS, National Toxicology Program, Report on Carcinogens, Thirteenth Edition (2014).