Congress Passes CA-Based Formaldehyde Limits for Composite Wood

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Congress Passes CA-Based Formaldehyde Limits for Composite Wood

by Tom Lent, Policy Director, Healthy Building Network
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RT @HBNPharos: Congress passes formaldehyde limits for composite wood. Good step forward but much remains.
Friday, July 9, 2010 - 9:00am



The US Congress has approved legislation[1] 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 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.

Although the regulations list emissions standards that kick in as early as July of 2011 and 2012, the EPA has two and a half years – until January 2013 – to promulgate regulations to implement the standards and retailers will be allowed to “sell-through” their inventory even beyond that point. 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. So although this legislation will represent an important step for reducing the health impacts of formaldehyde in buildings, smart designers will continue to use Pharos to find and evaluate the increasing number of products available across categories that avoid all added formaldehyde.


[1] S. 1660: Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act 

Tom Lent is a researcher with the Pharos Project and the policy director of the Healthy Building Network.

The Pharos Project, a project of the Healthy Building Network, connects you to a network of building professionals and manufacturers committed to transparency as a core value on the path to sustainability. Pharos is not a certification or label, it is information: the critical health and environmental data about the manufacture, use, and end of life of building materials specified and used every day.  All delivered in an easy to use web based tool. For more information go to