CARB Does NOT Equal TSCA

So one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that being CARB is an automatic pass to TSCA. That’s not the case, however, even if the emissions standards are the same.

First, as a reminder, TSCA, like CARB only directly regulates four composite wood products—plywood, particleboard, MDF and thin MDF. All other products that contain those primary components like flooring or cabinets or furniture are (currently!) indirectly regulated, meaning that the manufacturers of those products must specify and buy certified raw material and maintain records to show compliance. Indirectly regulated products must be labeled as Compliant.

We’ll get more into downstream issues later. It is going to take some time before TSCA raw material is widely available on the market and even longer until all downstream production starts showing labels. So let’s first look at the primary panels. This blog is more for manufacturers of flooring.

So what are the issues for primary panel production that the industry needs to be aware of? Here are a few simple ones.

First, you need to make sure that the Third Party Certifier (TP) recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Just because a TPC is cleared to certify CARB production doesn’t mean it’s automatically accepted by the EPA. The majority of CARB TPCs are likely to be recognized, at least initially, but you need to make sure before you buy. Go here for a regularly updated list of TPCs with EPA approval.

Second, just because a mill is certified to CARB does not mean it’s automatically cleared to produce under TSCA. As the EPA said, “On Aug. 25, 2017, entities may begin voluntarily labeling compliant composite wood products and finished good as TSCA Title VI compliance. For compliance to be achieved, an EPA-approved Third-Party Certifier must have certified the composite wood products pursuant to 40 CFR part 770.

What does that mean? Bottom line, before a mill can be cleared for TSCA production, the TPC is supposed to make sure it is able to meet all TSCA requirements. The mill may not have to go through a full complete new audit and new round of testing, but it has to be cleared as meeting TSCA requirements. And things aren’t exactly the same, see?

Some things are easy enough and obvious. For example, you will have to keep records for three years not two. But there are a couple of other major headaches to watch.

One of the biggest issues you should know about is an issue under review regarding Correlation. What’s that I hear you ask? Well, to try to explain simply, you know that both CARB and TSCA require that the panel mill does regular QC tests, right? However, to make sure those tests are meaningful, the TPC must say that the mill’s equipment and procedures are good enough to maintain quality control. The way that works is that the mill does a test sample and the TPC does a test on the same production, and if they match, it’s OK. This is called “Correlation.” Again, this is a simplified summary of the process, OK?

Now under CARB, the TPC can use small chambers to check the mill’s QC. But under EPA, the TPC must use only the large chamber to cross-check the mill’s QC equipment.

The industry correctly says this is crazy impossible because there are not enough big chambers out there to do the tests. They are asking the EPA to change to match CARB’s standards and accept the small chamber tests for Correlation. The EPA now recognizes the problem and will probably make this change, but they have not yet. Therefore a mill claiming TSCA certification at this time needs to have their equipment tested against a large chamber (ASTM E-1333).

Another issue is production timing. Many mills do not produce CARB constantly—they produce per order. Even if their emissions levels or other production factors are the same each time, CARB is only CARB if it is tested and registered as such. So if a mill doesn’t have an order, it may not actually make CARB. Under CARB’s rules, if a mill doesn’t make anything in a quarter, they can start up again the following quarter and make CARB virtually immediately by following all the rules. But under the EPA, if a mill doesn’t make TSCA material in a quarter, they lose their certification and have to start all over again. This is yet another issue that the industry is addressing with the EPA.

There are other things too—next week we’ll talk timing since that’s a big point of confusion and will impact everyone in the supply chain.

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