What to Do When Experts Disagree About Product Safety

What To Do When Experts Disagree About Wood Laminate Product Safety

You may have heard about or watched the 60 Minutes feature on formaldehyde and laminate wood flooring. Global Community Monitor filed a lawsuit against Lumber Liquidators saying it had conducted more than 50 tests on flooring products, and the results showed average initial formaldehyde exposures to be more than 100 times the amount allowed by CA Prop 65.

It’s a staggering number, and it probably caught your attention, didn’t it?

On the surface, it seems straightforward–the tests show the flooring is unsafe. However, here’s where it gets a bit tricky.

The experts disagree.

The Debate About Testing Methods

The tests that were the basis of the lawsuit used a “deconstructing test method” rather than industry standard test methods. Some experts alleged that the deconstructing method alters the way the product would be used in the home, and as a result, leads to unreliable test results.

Recently, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into Lumber Liquidators’ wood laminate flooring, and the CPSC intends to use industry standards to test the flooring rather than the deconstructing test method. It will be several months before the investigation is complete, but some experts believe that the CPSC will prove that the floors are safe.

So, when the experts disagree, what should you do?

You should use the preventative principle.

Take action to protect yourself and your family so there’s less chance of suffering from high levels of formaldehyde in your home.

Buy the safest products, learn the facts about formaldehyde, and follow steps to reduce formaldehyde in your home.

How to Protect Yourself When Buying Wood Laminate Floors – Buy the Safest Products
When buying wood laminate flooring, you can be sure you’re getting the safest flooring by following the EPA recommendations. Buy products that are labeled or stamped in compliance with:

  • California Air Resources Board Air Toxics Control Measure (CARB ATCM)
  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI):
    • Particleboard should conform to A208.1-2009 or CARB ATCM
    • MDF should conform to A208.2-2009 or CARB ATCM
    • Hardwood Plywood should conform to ANSI/HPVA HP-1-2009 or CARB ATCM

Is Formaldehyde Really That Toxic? Learn the Facts About Formaldehyde
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provides convincing information that formaldehyde is dangerous to your health.

  • At room temperature, formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that has a distinct, pungent smell.
  • Formaldehyde is quickly broken down in the air, usually within hours.
  • Emissions generally decrease as product ages.
  • Formaldehyde dissolves easily but does not last a long time in water.
  • Formaldehyde does not build up in humans.
  • The primary way you can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing it.
  • Indoor air contains higher levels of formaldehyde than outdoor air. Levels of formaldehyde measured in indoor air range from 0.02-4 ppm. Formaldehyde levels in outdoor air range from 0.0002 to 0.006 ppm in rural and suburban areas and 0.001 to 0.02 ppm in urban areas.
  • Health effects: Nasal and eye irritation, neurological effects, and increased risk of asthma and/or allergy have been observed in humans breathing 0.1 to 0.5 ppm. Eczema and changes in lung function have been observed at 0.6 to 1.9 ppm.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen based on human and animal inhalation studies.
  • Children’s health effects: A small number of studies have looked at the health effects of formaldehyde in children. It is very likely that breathing formaldehyde will result in nose and eye irritation. It is not know if the irritation would occur at lower concentrations in children than in adults. There is some evidence of asthma or asthma-like symptoms for children exposed to formaldehyde in homes.

Want to learn more? Read the CPSC formaldehyde update. 

How to Reduce Formaldehyde in Your Home
Check out these ideas for reducing the formaldehyde levels in your home.

1. Open the windows to increase ventilation.

2. Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to reduce heat and humidity.

The EPA states that the rate at which formaldehyde is released is accelerated by heat and may also depend somewhat on the humidity level.

3. Fill your room with plants that absorb formaldehyde. It’s scientifically proven that plants can absorb VOCs like formaldehyde.

See which plants work best to absorb formaldehyde.

4. Purchase a high quality air cleaner that is specially designed to remove formaldehyde from your air.

You’ll need a unit with a true HEPA filter and Carbon filter specially treated to remove VOCs like formaldehyde. All air purifiers are not created equal, so if you’re targeting the removal of formaldehyde be sure to check out Austin Air HealthMate Plus. It will solve your problem.

How Do I Test My Floors or Air for Formaldehyde?
Testing is neither easy nor cheap.

The EPA says it “has not tested or verified the accuracy of home test kits for formaldehyde”. However, the EPA does offer a list of California laboratories that currently participate in CA’s third-party certification program.

Please note that these laboratories are set up to work with manufacturers and not consumers. Click here for the list of California laboratories.

When Experts Disagree Use the Preventative Principle
If you’re in the market for laminated wood flooring, follow the EPA guidelines and look for products that are CARB ATCM or ANSI compliant. The state of California is typically on the leading edge in consumer safety and the ANSI compliance stamp is a meaningful certification, so search for products and manufacturers that are compliant.

If you’ve recently purchased laminated wood flooring, follow the four steps listed above to reduce the amount of formaldehyde in your air and you’ll breathe easier.

 

Sources:

  • CPSC.gov – Questions and Answers regarding laminate flooring
  • EPA.gov – Protect Against Exposure on formaldehyde
  • The Motley Fool: Lawsuit by Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. Is Tossed
  • The Motley Fool: Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. Stock Down 20% on Earnings