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Safety

EPA issues final national formaldehyde standard

Rule aims to protect the public from harmful emissions

by Glenn Hess, special to C&EN
December 12, 2016

Credit: Johnny Louis/JL/Sipa USA/Newscom
Formaldehyde would be limited in composite wood products such as plywood.

The Environmental Protection Agency today published final standards limiting emissions of formaldehyde from products containing composite wood, such as hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard. These products are commonly used to make furniture, cabinets, and flooring.

“EPA has set in place for the whole country the world’s most stringent standard for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products,” says Jackson Morrill, president of the Composite Panel Association, an industry trade group.

The rule, which added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act, impacts both domestic and imported finished goods. It seeks to reduce exposure to formaldehyde, which can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. High levels of exposure have been linked to respiratory problems and some types of cancers. Industry experts say the final rule contains no significant changes from a prepublication draft issued in July.

“To be successful, EPA must now develop world-class enforcement practices that ensure these standards are met by all composite wood products sold in this country, whether made here in the U.S. or abroad," Morrill says.

The regulation, which takes effect on Feb. 10, 2017, establishes formaldehyde emissions standards for hardwood plywood of .05 ppm; particleboard, .09 ppm, medium-density fiberboard, .11 ppm, and thin medium-density fiberboard, .13 ppm.

Composite wood manufacturers will have one year to comply with the emissions limits, which are based on similar requirements adopted by California's Air Resources Board in 2008.

The rule also limits emissions from some laminated products, requires communication throughout the supply chain, and sets up a third-party certification program to evaluate compliance with the regulation's standards.

The potential health risks of formaldehyde were highlighted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed thousands of Gulf Coast residents’ homes in 2005. Displaced families forced to live in hastily constructed trailers soon began reporting respiratory problems and eye irritation. Air tests indicated that high levels of formaldehyde fumes had been leaking from the wood in the trailers.

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Comments
K.N. Krishna Prasad (December 19, 2016 12:51 AM)
It would be interesting to know how far California's Air Resources Board Specification 2008 has been successfully adopted. The problem is more acute during summers and, more so, in the tropics. Stringent Standards are no doubt welcome. But, to what extent it is feasible is the challenge. K.N.Krishna Prasad, Chartered engineer & EHS Professional, Mysuru, India

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