Laminate or Engineered Wood Floor Formaldehyde Out-gassing Remediation
After we have formaldehyde test results that confirm an actionable 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.
Certainly it is true that some products made using glues or chemicals that outgas formaldehyde after the sale or installation of the material can continue to do so for protracted periods. Those seem to include some particle board, cabinets, carpet padding, flooring.
Other formaldehyde-containing products such as UFFI foam building insulation (blown into homes in the 1970's in North America) appeared to release unacceptable levels of formaldehyde into the building air only if the product was improperly mixed and only for a limited time. Open-celled UFFI insulation remaining in homes today is unlikely to be a source of detectable & hazardous levels of formaldehyde.
Five Steps Towards Correcting High Indoor Formaldehyde Levels Thought to be Due to Laminate Flooring Outgassing
Options for dealing with high levels of indoor formaldehyde that has not diminished over several months after new installation of materials in a building include:
Ventilation - adding fresh air ventilation to a building can make substantial improvements in indoor air quality. Combined with balanced ventilation design or a heat-exchanger fresh air system and filtration this approach addresses not just a formaldehyde or odor problem but other indoor air quality contaminants as well. Since most formaldehyde outgassing from flooring products occurs rather rapidly when the product is newly-installed, ventilation is important and perhaps the first step that one should consider in reducing an indoor formaldehyde gas complaint.
Watch out: increasing building ventilation may also increase the offgassing rate of formaldehyde from formaldeyde containing materials such as Chinese-produced laminate flooring because it stirs indoor air and disturbs the laminar air layer over building surfaces. While ventilation with clean fresh outdoor air will generally improve indoor air quality it is likely to provide about 60% of the theoretical improvement and depending on building age, leakiness, and cost of heating and cooling, the benefits may be a bit less and the cost a bit more. (Offermann 2009).
Waiting: depending on the material that is out-gassing formaldehyde, the passage of time, combined with ventilation, may be sufficient to stop indoor formaldehyde complaints. The outgassing rates will vary widely depending on the source, with soft goods such as cloth outgassing more rapidly than laminated-sealed flooring.
Really? Currently (May 2015) the half life of formaldehyde-outgassing flooring such as the media-attended Chinese-made laminate flooring sold in the U.S. by Lumber Liquidators, is unknown. Because laminate flooring products are typically sealed with one or more layers on either side of the MDF core (the principal formaldehyde offgassing source), the offgassing rate for installed laminate flooring may be slow (and the indoor formaldehyde levels may be correspondingly low as well).
Sealing of outgassing surfaces - it may be possible to reduce or nearly eliminate detectable levels of formaldehyde from some products such as particle board by application of a suitable sealant.
See DISINFECTANTS & SANITIZERS, SOURCES - Guide to Buying Disinfectants, Fungicidal Sealants, Sprays, Biocides used on or in Buildings
see MOLD SPRAYS, SEALANTS, PAINTS
Really? This approach is not likely to be considered practical for installed laminate flooring or other materials that would be costly and disruptive to remove except in cases where high levels of formaldehyde offgassing have been traced to those sources and other remedies are not successful.
Covering of outgassing surfaces - a special case of "sealing" just cited may be the installation of a new layer of flooring over a laminate floor that owners don't want to remove, using a combination of sealant, underlayment, and new flooring materials. Keep in mind that any build-up of flooring or walls (treating paneling for example) may create a trip hazard at doorways (uneven floor levels) or a need to build out interior window and door trim.
Removal of the source material - be sure you've correctly identified the formaldehyde source as often measurements are confused by consumers who may assume that one product is the formaldehyde source only to discover after its removal that the problem remains because they left a different formaldehyde gas source in place. In most cases removal of flooring is unnecessary, inappropriate, and would be a last resort.
"The Composite Wood Products Regulation establishes emission standards at levels intended to
protect public health. We believe most laminate flooring and engineered wood flooring labeled
as complying with California’s formaldehyde emission standards (i.e., CARB Phase 2) meets those
However some flooring products may have been falsely labeled.
Various studies have shown that laminated and engineered flooring and sealed surfaces and edges
reduce the emissions from the platform materials and that the emissions generally decrease as
the product ages.
As a general rule, we do not recommend removing a flooring product unless
there are noticeable health effects (i.e. nose and throat irritation, a burning sensation of the eyes,
wheezing, and difficulty in breathing), and other measures (see below) taken to alleviate them
have failed and there is good reason to believe the flooring is the source of the problem." - Californian Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (CARB), 03/03/2015, http://www.arb.ca.gov/html/fact_sheets/composite_wood_flooring_faq.pdf
Temperature & Humidity - increasing indoor temperature and humidity can speed the offgassing of formaldehyde from building products and it is likely to result in higher measurements of indoor formaldehyde levels. Some building consultants have experimented with attempting to "bake-out" formaldehyde outgassing sources indoors.
We have not found an authoritative source recommending pushing up indoor temperature or humidity as a means of speeding the curing of new indoor materials and thus as a means of ultimately reducing the indoor formaldehyde level.
Kim (2005) however reported significant reductions of the formaldehyde outgassing of laminate floors heated by sub-floor heating systems in Korea; similar effects might be obseved in other countries where under-floor or radiant-floor heating is installed. Kim concluded that in Korean homes, as furniture using MDF was not heated to the same level as laminate flooring, the furniture remained the more significant source of indoor formaldehyde.
For occupied buildings where there is a known or suspected formaldehyde offgassing problem, the California Air Resources Board has written some helpful advice of which the bottom line is that consumers should use increased fresh air ventilation combined with keeping indoor temperatures and relative humidity low to both exhaust formaldehyde gases and at the same time so as to reduce the rate of formaldehyde offgassing.
"Proper ventilation, such as opening up windows, bringing fresh air through a
central ventilation system, and running exhaust fans will expedite formaldehyde off-gassing from
finished goods in your home as well as the odors from any finishes such as varnish or lacquer.
Extended ventilation may be needed.
Keeping indoor temperatures and humidity low, such as by
using an air conditioner and/or dehumidifier to draw the moisture out of the air when humid, may
help decrease the amount of formaldehyde that off-gasses into the indoor air." - Californian Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (CARB), 03/03/2015
At FORMALDEHYDE HAZARDS we report that formaldehyde is a ubiquitous volatile organic compound
(VOC) that occurs in nature and is widely used in building
products, finishes, and furnishings because of its desirable
properties and low cost. Nearly all products made with
formaldehyde outgas to some extent, but only a few contribute
significantly to indoor air problems.
Continue reading at FORMALDEHYDE GAS HAZARD REDUCTION 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.
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report of formaldehyde outgassing from cabinets - how to speed the clean-up or clear-up of formaldehyde outgassing
(July 26, 2014) PCantelli@cfl.rr.co said:
My new cabinet's were off gassing .24 .27 .29 I kept coughing and couldn't stop went to the Drs now using inhaler
(Sept 21, 2014) Anonymous said:
I have new paneling in my basement and the smell is giving me asthma attacks. I also have parrots. Will the smell eventually lessen?
Normally yes for most products outgassing diminishes substantially over time. There may be some formaldehyde outgassing products that continue to release detectable formaldehyde for a longer period. In our OINION in the first group are carpets and carpet paddings, in the second group, harder materials such as flooring and particleboard. You can speed the process with heat and ventilation with fresh air.
Watch out: however. Heating a building interior and increasing its relative humidity will increase the formaldehyde level indoors, potentially increasing occupant exposure. There fore these steps are better for unoccupied spaces, while instead, balanced ventilation or a heat exchange fresh air venting system is perhaps safer for reducing formaldehyde levels in an occupied indoor space.
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Questions & answers or comments about the sources of formaldehyde gas hazards, odors, or smells in buildings.hklkjhg
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AIHA, Guidelines for Selecting an Indoor Air Quality Consultant, http://air.ky.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/GuidelinesforSelectingAnIndoorAirQualityConsultant.pdf
California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (CARB), Composite Wood Products Airborne Toxic Control Measures (ATCM) (2008) – Final Regulation as approved:
http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/2007/compwood07/fro-final.pdf also see: http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm
Health Canada “Formaldehyde in Indoor Air”, http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/air/formaldehyde/fact-info-eng.php
IARC, 2009. IARC classifies formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans; press release no.153; International Agency for Research on Cancer: Lyon.
Kim, Sumin, and Hyun‐Joong Kim. "Comparison of formaldehyde emission from building finishing materials at various temperatures in under heating system; ONDOL." Indoor Air 15, no. 5 (2005): 317-325M
NIOSH Publication 91-114. U.S. Government Printing Office
Offermann, F. J. 2009. Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality in New Homes. California Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission, PIER Energy‐Related Environmental Research Program. Collaborative Report. CEC‐500‐2009‐085.
Salthammer, Tunga, Sibel Mentese, and Rainer Marutzky, 2010. Formaldehyde in the Indoor Environment, Chemical Reviews 110.4 (2010): 2536–2572.
U.S. CPSC, “An Update on Formaldehyde”, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (2013) http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/121919/AN%20UPDATE%20ON%20FORMALDEHYDE%20final%200113.pdf
Title 8. Industrial Relations Subchapter 7. General Industry Safety Orders Group 16. Control of Hazardous Substances Article 110. Regulated Carcinogens, §5217. Formaldehyde, - retrieved 11 March 2015, original source: https://www.dir.ca.gov/title8/5217.html
"Composite Wood Products ATCM", California Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board (CARB), 3 March 2015, original source: http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm
California regulations on composite wood products and off gassing: www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm
American Home Furnishing Alliance (AHFA), 1912 Eastchester Drive, Suite 100 High Point, North Carolina 27265, Website: https://www.ahfa.us/
Excerpt: The American Home Furnishings Alliance is the voice of the residential furniture industry, representing companies large and small, public and private, domestic and import.
Kessler, Aaron M. & Abrams, Rachel, "Homeowners Try to Assess Risks from Chemical in Floors", The New York Times, 11 March 2015, p. B9
Kessler, Aaron M. & Abrams, Rachel, "Lumber Liquidators Plunges After TV Report of Tainted Flooring", The New York Times, 4 March 2015
"An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Formaldehyde", U.S EPA, - see http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html
Sources of Formaldehyde [in buildings]
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and outdoors.
Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters. Formaldehyde, by itself or in combination with other chemicals, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products. For example, it is used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies, as a component of glues and adhesives, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products.
In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include: particleboard (used as sub-flooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.
Other pressed wood products, such as softwood plywood and flake or oriented strand board, are produced for exterior construction use and contain the dark, or red/black-colored phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resin. Although formaldehyde is present in both types of resins, pressed woods that contain PF resin generally emit formaldehyde at considerably lower rates than those containing UF resin.
Health Effects of Formaldehyde in buildings
Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. May cause cancer. May also cause other effects listed under "organic gases."
"An Update on Formaldehyde" (local copy), U.S. CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), 1977 Revision, Original source - http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/725.pd
Paul Probett, Incodo ltd Building Consultancy, Tauranga New Zealand,
Ph: 0064 7 578 7499 - Office, Post:
Incodo Ltd, Box 8202, Cherrywood, Tauranga, New Zealand, is a building expert who has addressed building moisture investigations, UFFI insulation, urea formaldehyde outgassing in buildings. Mr. Probett reports (2 May 2010):
We have a major leaky home problem here with probably 80-100,000 homes built in the last 25 years which leak badly and require on average about $180K US to remediate. Causes are an interesting subject by themselves, but government here acknowledges they had something to do with it and employ people like me to investigate and report for a token fee to the public.
Needless to say our investigation techniques have developed sharply and standard inspection for moisture intrusion includes NDT [non-destructive moisture and leak investigation techniques] using thermal imagers in concert with both microwave and dielectric constant moisture meters (Favoured brand is the German Trotec™ T2000 multiunit . We have also sharpened our way of measuring moisture in non timber materials using Trotec or Gann resistance probes to take readings from a variety of materials as well as using narrow diameter temp/humidity probes. I add to the mix using Logtag data loggers cards to identify dew point problems.
... We are becoming increasingly concerned here as off gassing rates ( the company doing installs here uses USA sourced UF foam) do not seem to stabilize as quickly as some literature suggests. Since NIOSH and CDC now ( recently anyway) class UF as a carcinogen we have elevated concerns.
The other issue is that we are getting anecdotal evidence that when UFFI is wet it breaks down to airborne UF. In addition given your recent FEMA problem with class actions over UF release from emergency accommodation trailers used after Hurricane Katrina- the issue has a new lease of life.
We still use UF in large quantities in particle board here ( 106kg/m3 of UF and about 20kg/m2 of Toluene) and believe we are seeing off gassing of these products from wet what you call OSB I think. - at levels high enough to suggest high risk to long term occupants. ... I like Gastec sorbent tubes over Draeger - simpler quicker and cheaper.
Looking forward to getting a Walleye Technologies microwave imager for inspection purposes as soon as they're released - looks a very promising tool for the box
U.S. EPA, “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Formaldehyde”, http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formaldehyde.html
U.S. EPA, et als, “Building Air Quality: A Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers”, NIOSH and EPA. December 1991.
"CDC Releases Results Of Formaldehyde Level Tests", 14 February 2008, original source:
Quoting from portions of that document:
NEW ORLEANS, La. -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released today preliminary results from recent testing that found higher than typical indoor exposure levels of formaldehyde in travel trailers and mobile homes used as emergency housing in the Gulf Coast Region.
... These findings support FEMA's continued focus on finding permanent housing for everyone who has been living in travel trailers and mobile homes since the hurricanes," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "The levels in many of these trailers and mobile homes are higher than would be expected indoors. Since these levels were found in December and January, and we know that higher temperatures can cause formaldehyde levels to go up, we think it's wise for people to be relocated before the hot weather arrives in summer. We also think that it would be beneficial for people who are displaying symptoms as well as households with children, elderly persons, or occupants with chronic respiratory illnesses to receive priority consideration for alternate housing.
CDC's preliminary evaluation of a scientifically established random sample of 519 travel trailers and mobile homes tested between Dec. 21, 2007 and Jan. 23, 2008 showed average levels of formaldehyde in all units of about 77 parts per billion (ppb). Long-term exposure to levels in this range can be linked to an increased risk of cancer, and as levels rise above this range, there can also be a risk of respiratory illness. These levels are is higher than expected in indoor air, where levels are commonly in the range of 10-20 ppb. Levels measured ranged from 3 ppb to 590 ppb.
CDC and FEMA recommend that Gulf Coast families living in travel trailers and mobile homes spend as much time outdoors in fresh air as possible. Residents should open windows to let fresh air in whenever possible, and try to maintain the temperature inside their travel trailers or mobile homes at the lowest comfortable level. Higher temperatures can cause greater release of formaldehyde. Persons who have health concerns are encouraged to see a doctor or another medical professional.
The two agencies have established toll-free hotlines. FEMA employees are available to discuss housing concerns at 1 (800) 621-FEMA (3362), or TDD: 1 (800) 462-7585. CDC specialists will respond to health-related concerns at 1-800- CDC-INFO.
"Formaldehyde and Travel Trailers", U.S. Department of Homeland Security - FEMA, 20 July, 2007, original source: - http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=36730 Quoting from portions of that document:
Of the 120,000 travel trailers and mobile homes provided to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf, FEMA has documented 206 complaints of strange odors, including formaldehyde complaints. At residents' requests, FEMA switched out units for trailers that had already been used and ventilated. FEMA distributed information to trailer occupants across the country explaining how persons sensitive to formaldehyde may be affected by its presence and laid out actions that should be taken to reduce exposure in the trailers.
All new, unused and unventilated travel trailers have formaldehyde in them. The concentration of formaldehyde can be reduced significantly by ventilating the units by running fans with open doors and windows. Other factors that affect the levels of formaldehyde indoors include the type and age of source materials, temperature and humidity. It also is important to recognize that some people are more sensitive to the effects of formaldehyde than others.
Based on issues recently brought to our attention and new questions about health effects of formaldehyde, FEMA has again engaged the scientific community to review current concerns about the effects of formaldehyde on travel trailer residents of the Gulf. In conducting this re-evaluation, FEMA has teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Health Affairs (DHS OHA), and multiple agencies within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of note, these evaluations will not be limited to formaldehyde, but will take a holistic view of analyzing symptoms and possible causes. These agencies will work together to determine the relationship between the air quality in FEMA's travel trailers and the health of the residents who live in them.
The HUD standard places limits on formaldehyde emissions and product certification of all plywood and particleboard materials, which involves emission certification by a nationally recognized testing laboratory and a written quality control plan for each plant where particle board is produced or finished or where the plywood is finished. These standards have been required by HUD for manufactured homes, and now FEMA's specifications have incorporated those same standards for travel trailers.
The HUD standards also require that each manufactured home be provided with a Health Notice on formaldehyde emissions as required by 3280.309 of the Standards. Adjustments to this will be made based on the findings of follow-up reviews by agencies responsible for determining the effects of formaldehyde and potentially setting standards.
Goldin, Laura J., Liza Ansher, Ariana Berlin, Jenny Cheng, Deena Kanopkin, Anna Khazan, Meda Kisivuli et al. "Indoor Air Quality Survey of Nail Salons in Boston." Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health (2013): 1-7.
Gilbert, Nicolas L., Denis Gauvin, Mireille Guay, Marie-Ève Héroux, Geneviève Dupuis, Michel Legris, Cecilia C. Chan, Russell N. Dietz, and Benoît Lévesque. "Housing characteristics and indoor concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde in Quebec City, Canada." Environmental Research 102, no. 1 (2006): 1-8.
Gilbert, Nicolas L., Mireille Guay, Denis Gauvin, Russell N. Dietz, Cecilia C. Chan, and Benoît Lévesque. "Air change rate and concentration of formaldehyde in residential indoor air." Atmospheric Environment 42, no. 10 (2008): 2424-2428.
Hodgson, A. T., D. Beal, and J. E. R. McIlvaine. "Sources of formaldehyde, other aldehydes and terpenes in a new manufactured house." Indoor Air 12, no. 4 (2002): 235-242.
Kelly, Thomas J., Deborah L. Smith, and Jan Satola. "Emission rates of formaldehyde from materials and consumer products found in California homes." Environmental Science & Technology 33, no. 1 (1999): 81-88.
Liu, W., J. Zhang, L. Zhang, B. J. Turpin, C. P. Weisel, M. T. Morandi, T. H. Stock, S. Colome, and L. R. Korn. "Estimating contributions of indoor and outdoor sources to indoor carbonyl concentrations in three urban areas of the United States." Atmospheric Environment 40, no. 12 (2006): 2202-2214.
Park, J. S., and K. Ikeda. "Variations of formaldehyde and VOC levels during 3 years in new and older homes." Indoor air 16, no. 2 (2006): 129-135.
Pierce, J. S., A. Abelmann, L. J. Spicer, R. E. Adams, M. E. Glynn, K. Neier, B. L. Finley, and S. H. Gaffney. "Characterization of formaldehyde exposure resulting from the use of four professional hair straightening products." Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 8, no. 11 (2011): 686-699.
"The Formaldehyde Fuss", 25 Sept. 2007, RV Trade Digest, web search 05/03/2010 - see http://www.rvtradedigest.com/interactive/2007/09/25/the-formaldehyde-fuss/
Quoting from the RV trade association's article:
The association brought in a hired gun to bring manufacturers, dealers and suppliers up to speed about the issue which has garnered media attention to the point some consumers wonder whether they’ll be poisoned in their RVs, as some media outlets have contended. The bottom line is that the media hype is groundless and it is up to us to educate consumers about the formaldehyde fuss. ... Dr. Lee Shull is a professional toxicologist who works as the corporate risk services director for Environmental Resources Management in Sacramento, Calif. He was invited by RVIA [The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) is the national trade association representing recreation vehicle (RV) manufacturers and their components - www.rvia.org] to expose the fallacy of the formaldehyde issue. ... he did an excellent job putting the issue in its proper context. Here are a few bullet points you can use to reassure customers that RVs remain safe.
Formaldehyde is one of the most naturally occurring organic compounds in the universe
It is not unusual for people to be exposed to formaldehyde daily through clothing, carpeting, building materials and even food
It is often used as a disinfectant and antimicrobial solution
It is fed to livestock
It is found in soap and cosmetics
It is used in the food industry to process fish, cheese and juice
It has been used for 70 years to create exceptionally strong glue that securely bonds one material to another
[Watch out: the comments on Formaldehyde by RVIA and Dr. Shull, and summarized above, do not address the formaldehyde health research nor formaldehyde outgassing advice provided by the U.S. CDC, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the US EPA, and other experts.]
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