We’re back with Sarah Jane Scruggs of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) talking formaldehyde.
Sarah, last week we talked generalities—this week, let’s look at more specifically at formaldehyde and building materials like flooring.
Did you know that the construction industry consumes 60 to 70 percent of total formaldehyde produced in the United States? Further, formaldehyde producers provide significant contributions to the U.S. building and construction industry by supporting over 91,000 jobs and over $300 billion in sales.
Few, if any, compounds can replace formaldehyde chemistry in creating high-quality resins without compromising quality and performance. Formaldehyde-based resins are used to manufacture composite and engineered wood products used in cabinetry, countertops, moldings, furniture, shelving, stair systems, flooring, wall sheathing, support beams and trusses and many other household applications. Glues, for example, that use formaldehyde-based chemistry as a building block are exceptional bonding agents, delivering high-quality performance that is extremely economical.
So if formaldehyde is found in lots of items, again with building products as an example, should the consumer worry?
It is important to start by recognizing that over the years, the release of formaldehyde from building products has been steadily decreasing since the 1980’s. That’s when the industry voluntarily adopted product emission standards and developed low-emitting formaldehyde-based resins.
But beyond that, numerous standards and guidelines have been put in place to help control formaldehyde levels in the home environment. These values have been established by Congress, federal and international agencies and also voluntarily by industry. Notably, in the United States, three federal agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – have provided guidelines. In Canada, the government established a residential indoor air quality guideline for formaldehyde in 2006 and is in the process of creating a national regulation.
And of course the US Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act which established a framework for regulating emissions from composite wood products at the national level and is based on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) – the most stringent in the world. This regulation added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act and is therefore referred to as TSCA Title VI. Enforcement of the Act will start this year.
You mentioned to me that there was a new study out. Can you tell me about it?
Yes, the 2017 study “Potential Exposure and Cancer Risk from Formaldehyde Emissions from Installed Chinese Manufactured Laminate Flooring,” looked at more than 400,000 U.S. homes that had certain types of manufactured laminate flooring installed in them over the past 10 years. This extensive year-long study was conducted to address claims that formaldehyde exposure from this flooring causes cancer. As part of the study, researchers measured formaldehyde emissions from new flooring in homes as well as flooring that had been installed for one year.
The study found the installed floors had emissions far below applicable emission limits. The study also concluded that formaldehyde emissions from these applications “pose virtually no cancer risk to affected consumers.”
The bottom line?
The available science shows that formaldehyde exposure in the home is low, that levels are continually declining and current guidelines are protective of human health. More information and resources on formaldehyde can be found on American Chemistry Council’s Formaldehyde Panel Page, BuildingwithChemistry.com.
Thank you! Can you come back later to talk TSCA?
Sure! And my colleague, Kimberly Wise White, will be a panelist at the upcoming NWFA convention, so you can bring questions to ask her there as well.