Proposed Rules to Limit Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products Fact Sheet
- What is formaldehyde and where is it used?
- How might I be exposed to formaldehyde?
- How can formaldehyde affect my health?
- What is the EPA doing to protect human health?
- What do the EPA proposed rules cover?
- How do the EPA proposals compare to the regulations already in place in California?
- Are there steps I can take to reduce my exposure to formaldehyde now?
- Where can I get more information?
This fact sheet explains what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is doing to help protect Americans from exposure to formaldehyde by ensuring that composite wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States do not emit more formaldehyde than allowed by law.
On July 7, 2010, President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act into law. This legislation set limits on how much formaldehyde may be emitted from composite wood products including hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and finished goods containing these products. It charged the EPA to develop regulations to implement these limits and ensure they are being met.
What is formaldehyde and where is it used?
Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that has a distinct, pungent smell. It is used widely by industry to manufacture a range of building materials and numerous household products. It is in resins used to manufacture some composite wood products (e.g., hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard).
How might I be exposed to formaldehyde?
Everyone is exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde in air, some foods and products. The primary way a person can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing it.
How can formaldehyde affect my health?
Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.
What is the EPA doing to protect human health?
The EPA is issuing two proposed rules to help protect Americans from exposure to formaldehyde by ensuring that composite wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States meet formaldehyde emission standards established by Congress in 2010. The proposed regulations are another indication of EPA’s efforts to protect the public from the risks associated with exposure to formaldehyde.
What do the EPA proposed rules cover?
EPA's first proposal sets limits on how much formaldehyde may be released from hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard and finished goods containing these products that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported in the United States. EPA’s proposal also includes exemptions from some testing and record-keeping requirements for products made with no-added formaldehyde and ultra low-emitting formaldehyde resins. As required by statute, this proposal includes provisions addressing testing requirements, laminated products, product labeling, chain of custody, recordkeeping, stockpiling and enforcement.
The second proposal establishes a third-party certification framework designed to ensure that manufacturers of composite wood products meet the TSCA formaldehyde emission standards by having their composite wood products certified though an accredited third-party certifier. Under this rule, third-party certifiers would audit composite wood panel producers and verify compliance with formaldehyde emissions standards for their products.
Third-party certifiers would be accredited and audited by EPA-recognized accreditation bodies, who would report to the EPA on their activities. The rule establishes eligibility requirements and responsibilities for third-party certifiers and EPA-recognized accreditation bodies.
How do the EPA proposals compare to the regulations already in place in California?
The emission standards contained in EPA’s proposal are identical to the emission standards currently in place under the California Air Resources Board’s Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM). Other provisions in the EPA proposals align, to the extent possible and practicable, with the ATCM.
Most manufacturers are already following requirements for composite wood products already in place in California so that they are able to sell in any state. The EPA proposals provide one national standard thus preventing a patchwork of different state requirements and providing a level playing-field between states and between American companies and importers. EPA estimates that formaldehyde concentrations in new and renovated homes will be reduced by 9% to 25% when the rules are final. EPA also anticipates that the proposed rules will encourage the ongoing trend by industry towards switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in products.
In addition, EPA’s proposal covers certain laminated products – where a wood veneer is attached to a compliant platform with a formaldehyde-based resin, although California’s regulations exempt all laminated products. EPA expects the additional regulation of laminated products will reduce formaldehyde emissions from laminated products by 45% to 90%. The Federal statute compels the EPA to promulgate regulations in a manner that ensures compliance with the formaldehyde emission standards. EPA does not have evidence that laminated products containing formaldehyde-based resins are made in a manner that ensures compliance with the formaldehyde emissions standards. Therefore, EPA’s proposal covers such products, which further protects the public from the risks associated with exposure to formaldehyde.
Also, the California Air Resources Board directly evaluates and accredits Third Party Certifiers. The EPA is proposing to recognize accreditation bodies to determine if the Third Party Certifiers are competent to certify panel producers and their products. EPA believes using internationally recognized accreditation bodies will establish a globally uniform process with greater international reach and oversight.
Are there steps I can take to reduce my exposure to formaldehyde now?
If you experience adverse reactions to formaldehyde, you may want to avoid the use of pressed wood products and other formaldehyde-emitting goods.
Ask about the formaldehyde content of pressed wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture before you purchase them.
- Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
- Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
- Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.
Where can I get more information?
Additional information on the effects of formaldehyde can be found at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=219&tid=39 and http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formaldehyde.html. Copies of the proposed rules can be found at http://www.epa.gov/chemtest/formaldehyde/2013-05-28_PrePublicationCopy_Formaldehyde-Implementation_NPRM_FRL9342-3.pdf and http://www.epa.gov/chemtest/formaldehyde/2013-05-28_Pre-Publication-Copy_Formaldehyde-TPCs-NPRM_FRL-9342-4.pdf