Legislation Seeks to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions

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Legislation to reduce emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products has been introduced in the Senate.

Improving the air quality of American homes may bring changes to the wood products industry.
The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, seeks to establish national standards under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) for formaldehyde emissions in both domestic and imported composite wood products.
“High levels of formaldehyde are a health threat,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, sponsor of the bill. “This bill will establish national standards that, when fully phased-in, will be the strongest in the world.
The bill is based on California’s newly adopted formaldehyde emissions standards. It would apply to the sale of new particleboard, medium-density fiberboard, hardwood plywood and any product containing these materials. Under the proposed legislation, products sold in the U.S. would have to meet formaldehyde emission standards of about 0.09 parts per million by January 1, 2012.
Formaldehyde is a chemical that is used in many products as an adhesive, bonding agent or solvent. Most composite wood contains some formaldehyde. Composite wood is used in common household products such as furniture, cabinets, shelving, countertops, flooring and molding.
At room temperature, formaldehyde releases an invisible gas into the air. The chemical can cause nausea, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, and difficulty breathing for some people who are exposed to high concentrations. Formaldehyde is listed as “a probable human carcinogen” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Estimates by the State of California suggest that daily prolonged exposure to formaldehyde may contribute to tens of thousands of cancer cases in the U.S. each year.
The domestic wood products industry already has voluntary standards in place to limit formaldehyde. However, many imported products do not conform to these standards. Stricter standards being enforced on imported goods could benefit domestic manufacturers by giving them a larger piece of the market.
“These standards will both protect public health and ensure an even playing field between domestic wood products and foreign imports,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This legislation is pro-industry, pro-consumer, pro-environment and pro-public health. Its passage will be a legislative grand slam.”
The bill is receiving support from the wood products industry.
“AF&PA supports creating a single, nationwide standard for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood panel products,” said Donna Harman, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA). “The leadership from Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Crapo in this issue is welcome and appreciated.”
“Using California’s existing technology-based standard as a basis for this legislation’s new national standard is a good approach that promotes green jobs and product stewardship,” said Donna. “It also helps level the playing field for manufacturers by ensuring that those who are willing to meet rigorous standards do not also face a competitive disadvantage.”
Recent headlines of lawsuits concerning trailers with high concentrations of formaldehyde issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during hurricane relief could boost public support for the bill. However, the bill has gained only seven additional co-sponsors so far.
The hardest part of this bill will most likely be the implementation. It calls for labeling, chain of custody requirements, third party testing and certification, recordkeeping, auditing and, of course, enforcement, among other things.
This legislation is a step in the right direction. Standards definitely need to be put in place; but enforcing these standards, particularly on foreign manufactured goods, may prove difficult.