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Buckled laminate flooring after flooding Formaldehyde Gas Outgassing Hazards In Laminate Flooring
Formaldehyde test methods, sources of test error, remedies for outgassing materials

  • FORMALDEHYDE in LAMINATE FLOORING - CONTENTS: is there a hazard from formaldehyde outgassing from Chinese-made laminate flooring? How should we test for formaldehyde gas exposure levels indoors; if high levels of formaldehyde are found, have we properly identified the source? What are the remedies for indoor formaldehyde?
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the sources of formaldehyde gas hazards, odors, or smells in buildings
  • REFERENCES
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Formaldehyde gas exposure hazards from laminate flooring products:

This article discusses worries that unsafe formaldehyde gas exposure can occur in some buildings where Chinese-made laminate flooring products are installed. This concern was stimulated in 2015 by a U.S. television 60-Minutes broadcast that reported high levels of indoor formaldehyde gas in such homes where flooring sold by Lumber Liquidator was installed.

Here we describe the challenge of performing an accurate, representative test for any indoor contaminant, we describe methods of testing for formaldehyde gas indoors, and we discuss possible steps to remove formaldehyde gas and formaldehyde gas emitting laminated floor or other outgassing products in order to improve indoor air quality in homes.



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Formaldehyde Outgassing from Flooring Materials: sources, tests, remedies

Laminate and engineered wood flooring samples (C) Daniel FriedmanArticle Contents

 

 

 

How to deal with suspected formaldehyde outgassing from Lumber Liquidators or A&W Chinese Laminate Flooring

Reader Question: how do we test & what's the best way to get rid of formaldehyde outgassing from a Lumber Liquidators Laminate Flooring Job

7 March 2015 Californian said:

We just purchased a house with Lumber Liquidator flooring that was found by 60 minutes to contain formaldehyde level many times higher than the legal limit in the U.S. However, our installation is more than 2 years old. Do you think the outgas process of our floor is mostly done?

We thought about replacing the flooring but the current floor was installed on top of a plywood subfloor. Now, what if the formaldehyde has transferred into the subfloor so if we re-install any kind of porous flooring (like carpet) then it would only allow the formaldehyde to rise through the new flooring into our living space? Is this a realistic possibility?

What can we do to test the level of formaldehyde in the indoor air? And what's the best way to get rid of it?

This question was originally posted at FORMALDEHYDE GAS HAZARD REDUCTION

Reply: A little summary of the big formaldehyde offgassing cloud

Thanks for the interesting question, Californian.

Media attention to Chinese laminate flooring off-gassing of formaldehyde has been considerable. Some Chinese-manufactured laminate flooring produces high levels of formaldehyde off-gassing because of the fast hot-process used those laminate flooring fabricators. I suspect the faster process is part of the more lower fabrication cost and thus attractive price of some flooring. We first discussed this question at FLOOR, WOOD ENGINEERED, LAMINATE, INSTALL.

On 30 April 2015 the New York Times reported that

Lumber Liquidators reported a net loss in the first quarter as the company continued to dispute accusations taht its Chinese-made laminate flooring contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde. ... The retailer also disclosed that the Justice Department was seeking criminal charges against the company under the Lacey Act, an environmental conservation provision that prohibits the sale of wildlife or plants taken illegally.

The company previously said that the department was considering such charges in connection to illegally harvested wood products. ... Robert M. Lynch, the company's president said that the company was not increasing its purchases of laminate flooring from China and that it had been decreasing its sourcing from China even before the accusations surfaced. - Abrams, Rachel, "A Quarterly Loss at Lumber Liquidators After Consumer Flooring Complaints", The New York Times, 30 April 2015 p. B2.

An important if not the principal source of elevated formaldehyde in many buildings is medium density fiberboard (MDF) that is a central ingredient in laminate flooring products.

While the formaldehyde offgassing among laminate flooring products varies considerably for a number of reasons, the core material in the laminate flooring from China that received considerable media attention in 2015 is MDF. Formaldehyde emission rate tests conducted in 2014-2015, show that most of the laminate flooring manufactured in China has core MDF that substantially exceeds the CARB Airborne Toxic Control Measures (ATCM) guidelines.

Really? By early November 2015 it was clear that despite the company's continued suffering under a cloud of formaldehyde, Lumber Liquidators was not the only flooring vendor who had distributed laminate flooring products some of which might be out-gassing undesirable levels of formaldehyde.

The New York Times, in an update on formaldehyde and laminate floors, reported that other companies involved in manufacture and sale of formaldehyde off-gassing laminate flooring included Ark Floors, a California flooring importer of Chinese products who sold the flooring throughout the U.S., A&W Woods, also known as Anxin, the Chinese supplier to ARK and a company singularly unforthcoming to the Times reporter, Wayfair, an online flooring retailer, Walmart, and Home Depot stores (in the U.S. and Canada). Just how much Chinese-made flooring was sold through these various retailers and how much of that has unacceptable formaldehyde emissions and when such sales stopped (if they have) are data obscured in the formaldehyde cloud.

"Test results from five types of Ark laminate show levels of formaldehyde "well above" the emission standards set by the California Air Resources Board, according to ... HPVA Laboratories... the lab that had done testing on Lumber Liquidator's products.... Wayfair... sold Ark's laminate products as recently as Oct. 1 [2015]" - Abrams, Rachel, "Importer Selling Laminate Flooring From China Faces Formaldehyde Claims", The New York Times, 10 November 2015, p. B3.

Where is the US EPA Formaldehyde Off-gassing Standard?

The TCSA Section 21 citizens' petition regarding formaldehyde off-gassing was received by the U.S. EPA in March of 2008. More than seven years later, in November 2015, and five years after the 2010 law calling for a standard, there was yet no national U.S. standard for formaldehyde out-gassing. What delayed the U.S. EPA's adoption of a standard modeled on California's CARB guidance?

OPINION: A combination of industry pressure and confusion. Certainly there has been confusion among reporters, consumers, even some IAQ professionals and hygienists that could in part be blamed on lack of clear reporting of just how formaldehyde off-gassing tests were performed, making claims of high or low formaldehyde release difficult to compare or even understand.

Flooring products that look identical may vary considerably in their offgassing rate and duration. Tests of some laminate flooring products sold by Home Depot and Loews found no violations of the CARB standard, but Abrams, reporting in the Times noted that it was unclear which flooring mills had produced those samples. Only by consistent and well-defined testing is it possible to draw conclusions about the actual formaldehyde release from specific laminate flooring products made in China or elsewhere.

What about sales of the same laminate-flooring inside China? The Times October 2015 article noted that

"In 2012, some of A&W's products were pulled from Chinese store shelves because of concern over formaldehyde, according to an article from Xinhua, China's official news agency". - Abrams, Op. Cit.

The current status of the U.S. EPA facts, advice, and proposed emission standards for composite wood products, a response to the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act passed by the U.S. congress and signed into law in 2010 can be found at the U.S. EPA Formaldehyde website - http://www2.epa.gov/formaldehyde

Variables Determining Formaldehyde-Containing Building Product Off-gassing Rates

Engineered wood maple floor sample (C) D Friedman Vinyl laminate flooring (C) D Friedman

Formaldehyde is a rather volatile gas and it has certainly been detected at high levels in some buildings. And high levels of formaldehyde may be detected after installation of a variety of building products including some carpets or carpet padding, cabinets, counters, particle-board shelving, particle-board subflooring, and possibly laminate flooring products. Usually the outgassing from those products is rapid and the highest levels of outgassing occurs in weeks to months after initial installation.

The rate of formaldehyde off-gassing almost certainly is a function of these variables

I'm not sure I agree with your premise that a significant level of formaldehyde has transferred to the subflooring below your laminate flooring. From your note we don't know if your particular floor was the specific Chinese-made product that has raised this formaldehyde concern. Nor do we know if it is outgassing formaldehyde.

At least I would not, without carefully-constructed testing, assume that the subfloor is a meaningful receiver of formaldehyde such that it would continue to offer an outgassing hazard from having had a laminate or engineered floor installed above it, nor would I assume, without proper testing, that the finish flooring in your home is hazardous.

The most significant source of formaldehyde in homes today is pressed wood products made with urea- formaldehyde resins. These include particle board, interior hardwood paneling, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which has the highest concentration of urea- formaldehyde of any pressed wood product.

Formaldehyde is normally present at low levels, usually below 0.03 ppm both indoors and outdoors. However, buildings with high levels of pressed wood products can have higher indoor levels.

While the 60-Minutes television program you cite reported unacceptably high levels of formaldehyde, I have not yet located specifics on exactly how the test was performed - so we don't have a clear idea of how well it represents the actual experience likely to be had by homeowners where laminate flooring was installed. - The New York Times, 4 March 2015

Here is what Lumber Liquidators says about the 60-minutes Chinese-made laminate flooring off-gassing test:

60 Minutes used an improper test method in its reporting that is not included in California’s regulations and does not measure a product according to how it is actually used by consumers. 60 Minutes used a “de constructive test,” which would be like testing the emissions of a car by removing the catalytic converter and muffler. In contrast, we perform California Air Resource Board (CARB) testing on the fiberboard core and A SECOND ROUND OF TESTING on the finished product. - Lumber Liquidators, "How is our testing different than 60 Minutes?", retrieved 28 March 2015, original source: http://www.lumberliquidators.com/sustainability/health-and-safety/

The Federal Wood Industries Coalition, an industry trade group, as well as others have published position statements on the use of deconstructive testing to screen materials for formaldehyde offgassing potential. Here is an excerpt from FWIC:

... Most finished goods have laminates, coatings or finishes that further reduce the emission of residual formaldehyde in common use. The regulations do not consider these effects – they only regulate the unfinished panel substrates. ... CARB now has under consideration a proposal that would test laminated panels without removing the laminate, using well established and vetted test methods. We support the use of this technique. - FWIC Statement on Deconstructive Testing, March 2015, retrieved 28 March 2015, original source: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iwpawood.org/resource/resmgr/Docs/Deconstructive_testing_FWIC_.pdf

Position statements about methods used for testing for formaldehyde such as those suggested by CARB are available from industries that make considerable use of formaldehyde in the production of products such as cabinets, flooring, and particleboard and are included at REFERENCES.

Laminate Flooring Outgassing & Illness Signs?

Reliable formaldehyde outgassing test data vs. anecdotal evidence of flooring-related illness

We do not yet know that the formaldehyde outgassing tests made by the two investors discussed in the 60-Minutes program and in subsequent media reports were made following methods that actually describe the level of indoor formaldehyde exposure that would be experienced by building occupants - since we don't know quite how those tests were performed nor under what building conditions.

And we do know that it is very difficult to construct a truly accurate test of flooring outgassing or many other home indoor air pollutants. As we discuss later in this article series, small changes such as opening or closing windows or doors, turing fans on or off, even placement of a test device can make enormous changes in the test result. Just because a test kit gives a number to five decimal places (precision) that does not mean that the test is accurate (anywhere near the actual level of what's being measured).

However certainly there have been anecdotal reports of people complaining of human or pet illnesses that seem to be related to occupying spaces where new laminate flooring has been installed. - The New York Times, 11 March 2015.

In general, if occupants of a building (or their pets) have health-related complaints that seem to occur or worsen after spending time in the building and that diminish when spending time out of the building, that is suggestive that the building is causing or contributing to those complaints.

Watch out: however building contaminant exposure and health complaints are a complex topic to sort-out. For example, other sources of stress, even job or interpersonal stress could be taking place in one location and not others. And some building-related-illness symptoms or actual illnesses may have a slow onset or the symptoms may be slow to diminish when leaving the source of exposure.

Tests to Make Before Taking Any Remedial Action On Suspected Flooring Formaldehyde Outgassing

Before contemplating any costly action to remove, replace, or cover over laminate flooring that you worry may be an formaldehyde gas source in your building,
see FORMALDEHYDE TESTS for FLOORING to confirm that the flooring in your home is a source of formaldehyde gas contamination indoors.

For a discussion of the normal cycle of public fear over environmental contaminants and the independence of anxiety, testing, or remediation costs from actual hazard levels
see ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLE

See MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT, HIRE ? for help in deciding if it is probably appropriate to hire an expert to help sort out the question of a building-related illness.

Watch out: beware of self-styled experts who are going to just stop by and perform a test. Without a careful client interview, a taking of the building's history, an observation of its site, construction, materials, history, and other related factors, an environmental test performed alone may give disappointing and expensive results that are not useful: even if a test indicates there is a problem you may have to hire someone over again to perform much the same work in order to find the problem source and to recommend appropriate corrective measures.

Formaldehyde exposure limits: U.S. Federal and State Level

Watch out: U.S. federal government standards for permissible exposure levels of formaldehyde gas were developed for workplace safety not the home environment. There are no federal exposure standards or rules for formaldehyde exposure for end-consumers such as homeowners or occupants of commercial spaces where a formaldehyde outgassing material has been installed.

In the E.U. formaldehyde use in household products and chemical outgassing from wood products is more closely regulated, and as The Times pointed out, in Japan it is home builders who are required to limit the overall formaldehyde levels in new construction. - op. cit. 3/11/15

See FORMALDEHYDE GAS EXPOSURE LIMITS for formaldehyde outgassing from laminate flooring products.

Laminate or engineered wood floor formaldehyde outgassing remediation

After we have such test results then if there is a problem traced to your particular flooring, we can discuss approaches to stop the issue, ranging from demolition and removal to use of sealants and over-layers of other flooring.

See STOP LAMINATE FLOORING OUTGASSING for details.

Sources of Formaldehyde Gas in buildings

We have moved this discussion to FORMALDEHYDE GAS SOURCES in BUILDINGS

Consumer or DIY Formaldehyde Testing

See FORMALDEHYDE GAS TESTS by HOMEOWNERS

Research on Effects on Laminate Flooring Formaldehyde Outgassing Rates

Article Series Contents

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Continue reading at FORMALDEHYDE TESTS for FLOORING where we discuss how to remove, avoid, or eliminate indoor formaldehyde or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see STOP LAMINATE FLOORING OUTGASSING

Or see ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLES

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