How Does the U.S. EPA’s Final Rule on Formaldehyde Vapors Affect Consumers?

August 26, 2016

In July, the U.S. EPA issued a finalized rule aimed at reducing exposure to formaldehyde vapors from wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States. This ruling affects the manufacturers of flooring, furniture, and other household products that contain formaldehyde and was designed to keep toxic fumes from contaminating your home air. The products covered by this rule include: hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard as well as household and other finished goods containing these specific materials.

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable chemical with a strong odor that is used in building materials and in the manufacturing of many household products. It is commonly used in pressed-wood products, such as: particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard. It is also commonly found in glues and adhesives, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings, and some insulation materials. Formaldehyde is also widely used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries during embalming.

Formaldehyde may be listed under another chemical name. For instance, it is called methylene glycol in hair smoothing treatments designed to straighten hair. Other formaldehyde derivatives include methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, an important ingredient in polyurethane paints and foams, and hexamine, which is found in phenol-formaldehyde resins. What are the health risks associated with formaldehyde?

Exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause burning or watery eyes; irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation. Prolonged exposure or exposure to highconcentrations of formaldehyde may cause severe respiratory problems and even cancer. It is classified as a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Here are some important points of interest to keep in mind regarding how this ruling affects the average American consumer:

#1 If you already have laminate or composite flooring, or furniture made from particleboard or fiberboard in your home, you will need a Home Air Test to alert you to the presence of formaldehyde. While the EPA has taken past measures to limit the amount of formaldehyde found in common household products, a recent exposé on Lumber Liquidators, one of the top flooring providers in the country, showed that even with these regulations in place, their flooring contained up to 20% more than the permissible amount set forth by regulatory standards. To protect your home air quality, it is your responsibility to test your home air for harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) such as Formaldehyde.

#2 Manufacturers of these products have one year after the rule is published to label their products as compliant with TSCA Title VI. Many products that do not meet these new requirements will be marked down in order to move inventory before the new regulations begin. Avoid buying products containing these materials until the new regulations are enforced.

#3 This rule does not cover all products that are known to contain formaldehyde. Learn about the products that are covered by this ruling and limit use of products containing formaldehyde or any of its known derivatives.

To learn more about the ruling visit the EPA website.