The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just proposed two rules to protect Americans from exposure to the harmful chemical, formaldehyde. The rules are consistent with a 2010 Federal law unanimously passed by Congress. The rules ensure that domestically produced or imported composite wood products meet the Congressionally established formaldehyde emission standards.
Formaldehyde is used in adhesives to make a wide array of building materials and products such as composite wood products in the United States and internationally, and in manufactured homes and furniture. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause adverse public health effects including eye, nose, and throat irritation; and, in some situations, cancer.
In addition to its known carcinogenic effects, the invisible gas can also cause other illnesses ranging from nosebleeds to chronic bronchitis and respiratory ailments, and can aggravate asthma. In fact, formaldehyde has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable carcinogen by the EPA. The International Agency for Research on Cancer is an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). Of note, formaldehyde can also be found in other commonly used products, such as cosmetics.
“The proposed regulations announced today reflect EPA’s continued efforts to protect the public from exposure to harmful chemicals in their daily lives,” said James J. Jones, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Once final, the rules will reduce the public’s exposure to this harmful chemical found in many products in our homes and workplaces,” Jones added.
In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which establishes emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directs EPA to propose rules to enforce the act’s provisions. EPA’s proposed rules align, when practical, with the requirements for composite wood products that were set by the California Air Resources Board, it said. The rules would put in place national standards for firms that manufacture or import these products and will also encourage an ongoing move toward switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in composite wood products.
Emitted formaldehyde may result from the resin, the composite wood-making process, or during resin degradation in hot or humid conditions. EPA’s first proposal limits formaldehyde levels that may be emitted from hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and finished goods, that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported to the U.S.
This proposal includes testing requirements, laminated product provisions, product labeling requirements, chain of custody documentation, recordkeeping, a stockpiling prohibition, and enforcement provisions. Also included is what the EPA described as a common-sense exemption from some testing and record-keeping requirements for products made with no-added formaldehyde resins. The second proposal establishes a third-party certification framework created to ensure manufacturers of composite wood products meet the TSCA formaldehyde emission standards. This is accomplished by having their composite wood products certified though an accredited third-party certifier. The proposal also establishes eligibility mandates and responsibilities for third-party certifier’s and the EPA-recognized accreditation bodies that would accredit them.
The EPA explained that the robust proposed third-party certification program is meant to ensure composite wood products sold in the U.S. meet emission standards in the rule regardless of whether they were made domestically or internationally.