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Lumber Liquidators Will Stop Selling Flooring Made in China Because of Formaldehyde Levels

May 11, 2015

Specialty flooring company Lumber Liquidators says it will stop selling laminate flooring made in China, though the company insists the material is safe.

Customers are trying to figure out whether their homes are safe, CBS News reports. In March, a 60 Minutes report revealed that some Chinese-made flooring had higher-than-allowed levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. In response to the report, Lumber Liquidators gave air quality test kits to thousands of customers.

Lumber Liquidators said more than 26,000 kits have been given out and the vast majority of those returned fall within health guidelines. 60 Minutes sent undercover investigators to three Chinese factories that produce laminate flooring for Lumber Liquidators. They found boxes of floorboards with labels indicating the product met strict California standards. But in tests commissioned by 60 Minutes on boxes of flooring it bought in the U.S., 30 of 31 boxes of the flooring emitted as much as 13 times the amount of formaldehyde allowed. But Lumber Liquidators founder Tom Sullivan told Anderson Cooper the flooring was compliant and said the company was not going to "sell something unsafe."

The company now says 15,000 customers received air quality test kits and of 3,400 analyzed, "over 97 percent" had formaldehyde levels "within the guidelines set by the World Health Organization," according to CBS News. But in a lawsuit filed Thursday, a California attorney called test results given to his clients "false and deceptive." The attorney said his clients have been deceived into believing the flooring is safe. Tom Neltner of the National Center for Healthy Housing said, "This is a situation where consumers shouldn't have to ask questions about the safety of the products. They should be buying based on how the wood looks and how [much] the wood costs."

When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 1980, laboratory studies showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. This finding raised the question of whether formaldehyde exposure could also cause cancer in humans. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure. The National Cancer Institute reports that formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, named formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen in its 12th Report on Carcinogens. Research on workers exposed to formaldehyde reveals a potential tie between formaldehyde exposures and cancers such as leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer.

CBS News reports that Lumber Liquidators hired a company run by former FBI Director Louis Freeh to look at its sourcing and compliance practices. In a filing last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it faces an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice.

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