With all the news surrounding formaldehyde and the harmful effects this chemical may cause to our families, many are wondering if hardwood floors are still safe.
In 2014, a well-known nationwide wood floor retailer made national news over flooring that in tests exceeded the standards set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). In two 60 Minutes reports, inexpensive laminates sold by Lumber Liquidators in California were tested for formaldehyde with most exceeding by 6-7 times the limits set by CARB, the only formaldehyde emission standards at the time. For those uninitiated, formaldehyde is an ingredient in the resins used to make the composite or pressed board core layers in laminate and engineered floor planks. Additional tests conducted on flooring fully installed showed that the laminate and hardwood top layers coupled with clear protective coatings inhibited formaldehyde off-gassing.
“More than 100 million square feet of the company’s cheaper laminate flooring is installed in American homes every year,” per the 60-Minutes report.
For its part, Lumber Liquidators Inc. has pulled all the offending products from its more than 300 stores and paid a $2.5 million fine to settle CARB claims. According to the CARB website, Lumber Liquidators has implemented a “Fabricator Laminate Evaluation and Audit Program” and a “Composite Core Testing Research Program,” which will conduct audits of manufacturers and suppliers while randomly testing products complying with CARB testing standards.
How do formaldehyde levels affect you?
Before you crawl under the bed in fright, keep in mind that formaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound found in foods you eat and even your own bloodstream. Also, it is entirely legal to use formaldehyde in the manufacturing of hardwood floors. In fact, many items already in your home contain the component, like carpet, furniture, paint, clothing, fabric, and building materials. Within legal limits, the chemical and its “pickle smell” will off-gas over time and generally cause no problems.
Why don’t I live in California?
And though you live in North Texas, don’t pack your bags for Sacramento. Congress has passed a rule now being enforced by the EPA. The Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products that are sold, supplied imported, or manufactured in the United States. By December of this year, manufacturers and retailers in the United States must comply with appropriate levels of formaldehyde off-gassing initially set by the state of California and label their products as TSCA Title VI compliant.
“We are carrying out important measures laid out by Congress to protect the public from harmful exposure of this widely used chemical found in homes and workplaces”, said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
Scary news reports aside, it is important to remember that flooring available in the US is safe for your home, and many manufacturers and suppliers have already been CARB compliant for some time and if not, must be by the December rule implementation.
If you are still concerned about formaldehyde off-gassing, independent testing organization Consumer Reports says prefinished solid-wood flooring had lower formaldehyde off-gassing rates “near or less than our level of concern” than widely ranging engineered wood and laminates. For most people, this small amount of formaldehyde poses no threat whatsoever, but some will have mild irritation. If you’ve already bought or installed your wood, you can mitigate any emissions and bring them down to normal household levels by increasing airflow and circulation. Open windows around the wood to create a cross breeze to carry the gas and smell away. Ask your contractor or installer if it is possible to store the cases of wood in an open garage or covered structure to allow them to off-gas prior to acclimate in your home. Studies have shown that flooring and protective finishes off-gas completely in as little as a few hours to a few months.
We are constantly exposed to formaldehyde and with the help of regulations on wood composites, we can be assured the things in our home are safe as well as beautiful.
For more information or questions, feel free to contact us!
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