Formaldehyde in Flooring

Laminate FlooringFormaldehyde in wood flooring has been a huge topic as of late. The TV program 60 Minutes had reported that flooring superstore Lumber Liquidators has been producing and selling wood flooring advertised as being compliant with Phase 2 of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulation “California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde” when in fact the program has found that it is not compliant. In order to comply with CARB Phase 2, wood flooring made with MDF (medium-density fiberboard) needs to have under 0.11 ppm of formaldehyde emissions. Formaldehyde is used in the glues which hold the fiberboard “core” of laminate flooring together.

60 Minutes reported that only 1 out of 31 samples of Lumber Liquidators’ flooring from 5 states was CARB Phase 2 compliant (Click here to download raw data). The report also referenced another independent study of laminate flooring purchased from Lumber Liquidators in California.  Lumber Liquidators’ American made flooring was compliant, but their Chinese made products were not. Some samples were over 20x the limit!

How many homes have Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring? While there are no official numbers, the 60 Minutes report estimated that there are 10,000+ in California, and potentially 100,000+ in the USA!

On a federal level, the EPA is still working on formaldehyde regulations.  In 2010, the federal government enacted the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act. The EPA was supposed to have its final rule in place by January 1, 2013, but now the best guess is September 2015. It is expected that this federal regulation will mirror the CARB Phase 2 standard. Many people are calling for immediate action.

Formaldehyde can come from other sources as well. It can be found in paints, insulation, paper products, and cigarette smoke. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause symptoms such as nosebleeds, cough, itchy eyes, and sore throat. People with asthma, bronchitis, or are pregnant can be more at risk to having effects from formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, particularly for causing cancer of the nose and throat.

Do you have questions about formaldehyde?  Post a question in the comments section and I’ll try to respond quickly.

If you live in the Chicago area and would like for my company to test formaldehyde in your home, please visit: Formaldehyde Testing Chicago.



Paint Selection for IAQ Nerds

Indoor Air Nerd's wife displaying selection

When the Indoor Air Nerd was faced with selecting a new paint for his family room, he did the only sensible thing… had his wife pick it out!

Fortunately, my wife is an interior designer who is also passionate about indoor air quality (right honey?). We also have two small children that will spending a considerable amount of time in the room. As a frame of reference, our coffee table was replaced with a Thomas the Tank Engine train table!

I gave my wife just a few basic requirements…. (cue wife cringing)


How long does it take for VOCs to dissipate?

Contrary to what many may believe, it is quite difficult to predict how long it takes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to off-gas from new materials in a specific building.  Sure, you can do chamber studies under controlled conditions to determine emission or concentration decays, but how the material will behave in the real world can be quite different.

On Friday I was hired to perform a follow-up assessment for a home under construction that is experiencing elevated VOCs from varnishes and paints applied almost 7 months ago.  One month ago I was in the home and found some very high levels based on measurements with a photoionization detector (PID).  While PIDs are not as accurate or detailed as other methods of measuring VOCs, they can be used as a good screening tool with immediate feedback.

Ventilation VOCs

Reducing VOCs

Yesterday I received a call from a homeowner concerned about volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  After using an epoxy resin (and other VOC-laden building materials), the odors in the home were very strong and his wife stared showing signs of sensitivities.  Fast forward a year and now his wife has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (although I prefer the term “toxicant-induced loss of tolerance or TILT).  They are trying to stay away from the home as much as possible, putting them in a very difficult position.

Here is my general advice:

#1. It’s always best to prevent the problem in the first place by using low VOC products.  These used to be very difficult to find, but now they everywhere.  You really have no excuse for using high emitting products.  For the homeowner’s situation, this advice didn’t help because he already installed all the materials and was unwilling to gut the place (I don’t blame him).