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Independent Professional: Experienced educator and management consultant for engineering educational institutions, researcher, trainer, technical consultant on sustainable technologies, related to cement manufacturing and characterisation, using industrial and agricultural wastes in cement and concrete, durability of concrete and fuel cell power.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

US congress limits formaldehyde emissions from wood products

The US Congress has approved legislation to limit allowable emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products, specifically hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard sold in the United States. The new limits in are based on the levels established for the State of California in 2007 by the California Air Resources Board (CARB)

This is good news for reducing the serious toll that this known carcinogen takes on human health through widespread exposures in homes, offices and schools from building materials. The legislation should serve as a strong wake up call to the industry and help increase availability of low-formaldehyde and formaldehyde-free materials for the green designer. It is, however, only one piece of the puzzle in getting formaldehyde out of our buildings. 

Exemptions abound, including hardboard, structural plywood, structural composite lumber, OSB, glue-lams and wood I-joists, finger-jointed lumber, wood packaging, plus some exceptions for windows, exterior and garage doors, vehicles, boats and aircraft. 

Other important areas of formaldehyde use in building products, such as insulation and textiles, are not addressed by the legislation.

Finally, the new federal legislation reduces formaldehyde emissions but does not eliminate them.  The California Air Resources Board says bluntly that there is no known safe level for this carcinogen and avoidance is the best approach. There is a labeling option in the federal legislation for indicating “no-added formaldehyde-base binder,” but formaldehyde-based binders will still be widespread in products after this legislation goes into effect.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the more accurate reports I've read about the Composite Wood Act of 2010. I still question the statement

"This is good news for reducing the serious toll that this known carcinogen (formaldehyde) takes on human health through widespread exposures in homes..."

Phase 1 is was based on what was commonly produced by industry. Consequently, it will have very little in any reduction. Phase 2 is a 50% reduction so in eventually there will be some reduction in theory. Unfortunately, the use of manufactured wood is increasing so the it is likely the reduction in emmissions from each item will be offset by an increase in the number and volume of items used.

Additionally a significant number of the building components will have no change as they are unregulated by this legislation.

Living in CA, home of CARB, I was able to measure 198 ppb of formaldehyde in the master bedroom of a Phase 1 CARB compliant home. This was with the front door opened, window cracked opened, cooled to 68 degrees and with the 24 x 365 outside fresh air ventilation system operating. The typical infamous FEMA trailers were 77 ppb. CA's suggested max is 7 ppb and EPA won't allow their worker to occupy office buildings until below 16 ppb.