Formaldehyde Fumes in Basements Affecting Homeowners Due to Fire Retardant Coating Used During Construction

August 16, 2017

Approximately 2,200 homeowners have been affected by a product defect releasing toxic formaldehyde fumes into basement air. This product was used to coat I-joists painted green with a Flak Jacket coating composed of a formaldehyde-based resin, meant for fire protection.

However, after the formula changed, the formaldehyde wasn’t bound well enough and people started complaining about a smell. Some of these homeowners and their family members started suffering from itchy, burning eyes and respiratory problems.

This problem has caused numerous move-in delays for homeowners waiting for the builder to rectify this issue. Alyse Smith had already moved into her new home and allowed her children to play in the basement for two months before being notified about the danger. Smith was told to only go in her basement five minutes at a time and keep it locked up. She claims that the entire ordeal has been “Awful. It’s a nightmare for a new homeowner. It’s just something we didn’t plan on.”

Another family chose to move out and another home in the subdivision has a sign posted warning people to ‘stay out.’ Some families found out about the problem from their builders who delayed their anticipated move-in dates. Other families were told about the problem after they had already moved in to their new homes.

According to Dr. Aaron Wolfe with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, “Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound, and breathing in formaldehyde can trigger coughs and watery eyes, but long term can lead to chronic problems including cancer.” Formaldehyde is a common ingredient used in building materials and is often used as an adhesive or preservative.

Seattle-based business Weyerhaeuser, the manufacturer of the defective coating has said most homes affected are still being built and promises to cover the costs to fix it. The company has since stopped production of the Flak Jacket coating.

The company provided this statement from a spokesman:
“Our top priority is to do the right thing by taking care of every homeowner affected by this situation. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, and remediation has already been completed in several homes. Most affected homes are not yet occupied. In the limited number of homes that are occupied, we have advised homeowners to refrain from using their basements until the remediation is complete. For those who choose to stay in temporary housing until the issue is resolved, we are of course making arrangements for them and fully covering the cost. We have been working directly with homeowners and builders to understand each unique situation, and we are absolutely committed to making this right for everyone who is affected.”

The company is anticipated to spend $50 to 60 million fixing the problem.