Industry Dodges Formaldehyde Certification Bullet

Prompted in part by concerns raised over excessive formaldehyde emissions within trailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Katrina-displaced New Orleans residents, Washington has moved to regulate formaldehyde content in wood composite products. A better understanding of carcinogenic properties has also added fuel to the regulatory fires.

Because this essentially extends an earlier formaldehyde control measure by California to the rest of the country, Golden State manufacturers are likely well-versed. However, the issue is now germane to manufacturers and industry professionals nationwide.

Formaldehyde is used in building materials such as particleboard, plywood and fiberboard, as well as in glues and adhesives, certain insulation materials, carpeting and paint. In 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency first classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. Earlier this year, EPA released an updated draft health assessment, which found that inhaled formaldehyde fumes could be up to five times more likely to cause cancer, notably leukemia, than previously calculated.

New Federal Law
So, on July 7, 2010, Senate Bill S1660, Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, became Public Law 111-199. (An identical bill, HR 4805, was also passed by the House). The Act amends the Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C. 2601) by establishing national limits for formaldehyde emission from both domestically-produced and imported WPCs, similar to those established under the preceding California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulation 93120, Airborne Toxic Control Measure to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products.

The products covered are those manufactured using hardwood plywood (HWPW), particleboard (PB), or medium-density fiberboard (MDF), including furniture, cabinets, molding and window and door parts. Clearly, many manufacturers and industry professionals who use these materials in finished assemblies have a direct stake.

EPA is charged with developing by January 1, 2013, detailed implementation regulations that must include third-party testing as well as certification and labeling, chain-of-custody documentation, plant audits and verification of quality assurance procedures—just as is already the norm in California. Fortunately for our industry, the new national law also brought forward the California exemptions for fenestration products:

  • Windows that contain composite wood products are exempt … if the window product contains less than 5 percent by volume of HWPW, PB or MDF combined in relation to the total volume of the finished window product.
  • Exterior doors and garage doors that contain composite wood products are exempt … if either: (A) the doors are made from composite wood products manufactured with no added formaldehyde based resins or ultra low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) resins; or (B) the doors contain less than 3 percent by volume of HWPW, PB or MDF combined in relation to the total volume of the finished [product].

While the exemptions allow window and door manufacturers to meet the formaldehyde content limitation without the extensive and costly certification and labeling requirements, the problem is that a window is defined essentially as a frame for glazing, consisting of jambs, stiles, sash, and rails, but excluding sills, window headers and window seats. This exclusion makes it more difficult to meet the less-than-5-percent overall criteria.

AAMA supports the objective of reducing human exposure to harmful substances, but we have hastened to note that composite wood products account for only 3 percent of the sources of directly emitted formaldehyde, according to a 2001 CARB study. By far, the bulk of such emissions (68 percent) come from vehicle exhaust, with the balance coming from stationary sources such as carpet and paint and area-wide sources. We recently pointed this out in a May 25 letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which was at the time mulling the identical House version of the bill.

We are, therefore, pleased to see that the final law kept the window and door exemption intact. Just as with the poorly-implemented EPA rule on Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting, for which industry pressure was instrumental in convincing EPA to delay enforcement for several months, and now the formaldehyde issue, we will continue our legislative monitoring efforts and work to keep the industry informed while advocating on behalf of our industry.

Rich Walker, who after 22 years of service to AAMA, announced his retirement from the position of President & CEO.