Air Board Sets Strict Limits on Toxic Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products
SACRAMENTO – The California Air Resources Board (ARB) adopted regulations yesterday that require manufacturers of composite woods products, such as hardwood plywood, particleboard and fiberboard to reduce formaldehyde emissions to protect public health.
"Today's action will bring California in line with Europe and Japan in Phase 1," said ARB Chairman, Dr. Robert Sawyer, "and will make us the world leader when we implement Phase 2 in 2012. This measure will substantially reduce public exposure to formaldehyde, related asthma attacks and the risk of getting cancer."
All wood has some naturally occurring formaldehyde. But more formaldehyde is added to composite wood in the form of certain resins, which are used to bind wood particles together. New methods are available and others are quickly being developed that reduce and even eliminate the need for formaldehyde. When ARB's standards are in full effect in 2012, annually there will be 500 fewer tons of formaldehyde in California's air.
Composite wood is a general term for wood-based panels made from wood pieces, particles or fibers bonded together with a resin. Today's regulations focus on three products: hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard. Most of these products are used to make furniture, cabinets, shelving, countertops, flooring and moldings in homes. Formaldehyde is released from composite wood products at manufacturing plants, fabrication facilities, lumberyards, and home construction sites, and ultimately through windows, doors and ventilation systems in homes, schools and other buildings.
The regulations require all composite wood products sold in California to meet strict formaldehyde limits. Similar products sold outside of California are exempt. To ensure compliance, foreign and domestic manufacturers must certify their products by a "third party" lab approved by ARB and clearly label the items as meeting California's emission requirements. Distributors, contractors, panel manufacturers, and importers will be held responsible for assuring their products comply.
Formaldehyde has both cancer and non-cancer health effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded there is sufficient evidence that formaldehyde causes nasopharyngeal cancer in humans (the region of the throat behind the nose). Formaldehyde also has non-cancer effects such as eye, nose and respiratory irritation and has been linked to the exacerbation of asthma. Health risks from average formaldehyde exposures in California from all sources range from 86 to 231 excess cancer cases per million for adults, and from 23 to 63 excess cancer cases per million for children.
Formaldehyde was identified as a toxic air contaminant (TAC) by ARB in 1992 with no safe level of exposure. Once a TAC is identified, ARB is legally required to limit public exposure to the maximum feasible extent through the adoption of one or more Air Toxic Control Measures.
As part of that process, statewide formaldehyde exposure was reevaluated by ARB in 2005.
That evaluation found that emissions near composite woods were too high and required additional controls.