Lumber Liquidators Off Gassing In The News Again

I published an article almost 2 years ago about the off gassing of formaldehyde in some products manufactured by Lumber Liquidators.  How this news didn’t get any national attention is beyond me, as I was not the only person reporting it.

I also published another article a few months later about them destroying old growth timber in the Siberian Forest.  Again, this didn’t garner any real national attention.

Due to a segment this week on 60 Minutes, this issue is finally getting some attention!

It’s appalling that this company is not being shut down while this issue is being investigated.  A simple Google search of “Gibson Guitar Wood Seized” lists many articles about the federal government seizing millions of dollars in exotic hardwood they contend was a trade violation, that posed no health issues.

Following is an article from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Formaldehyde in Your Home

The Minnesota Department of Health Environmental Health Division is aware of issues raised by recent news reports of high levels of formaldehyde in certain types of laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators in California. Minnesota homeowners and residents who have questions or concerns about the laminate flooring in their homes should review the information below and see this California EPA fact sheet:Flooring Made with Composite Wood Products (PDF).

Background

Formaldehyde is a common chemical that has a strong pickle-like odor. It is currently used in thousands of products as an adhesive, bonding agent and solvent. Formaldehyde may also be formed when other chemicals break down. Formaldehyde is classified as a volatile organic compound (VOC). VOC’s are chemicals that become a gas at room temperature. As a result, products made with formaldehyde will release the gas into the air. This is called off-gassing. If high concentrations of formaldehyde are off-gassed and breathed in, it could cause health problems.

Where is it found?

Formaldehyde is found in many products such as particle board, plywood, paneling, pressed-wood products and urea formaldehyde foam insulation. Some synthetic fabrics, especially permanent press, shampoos and cosmetics may also contain small amounts. Formaldehyde is also a product of combustion. When you burn materials such as natural gas, wood, gasoline or tobacco, formaldehyde gas is released. Formaldehyde in small concentrations is a normal part of our environment. Outdoor air levels are usually between 0.002 to 0.006 parts per million (ppm) in suburban areas.

What are the health effects?

The health effects of formaldehyde exposure vary from one person to another. The most common symptoms are eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Human eyes are especially sensitive to formaldehyde. Many people describe the eye irritation as a burning sensation much like when cutting an onion or when you get soap in your eyes.

The effects of long-term exposure are not well known. Long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed formaldehyde as a “probable human carcinogen,” while the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as “carcinogenic to humans” based on nose and throat cancers in working populations.

Is the use of formaldehyde banned?

No, formaldehyde is still used in many consumer products. Since 1985, Minnesota has regulated the sale of wood products made with urea formaldehyde. Some common building materials have specific product standards that limit the amount of formaldehyde that can be released. Minnesota law requires that there is a written warning attached to certain building materials made with urea formaldehyde. New furniture is not covered by these product standards.

How do I know if I have a formaldehyde problem?

You may want to measure the formaldehyde level in your home if you have:

  • symptoms similar to those described in the health effects section of this paper; and
  • recently purchased a new home, furniture or cabinets, or have remodeled within the past year.

Some products and construction materials may emit formaldehyde at levels above 0.10 ppm especially when they are new. Products that are a few years old have off-gassed much of their formaldehyde and usually do not pose a health threat.

How can I measure the level of formaldehyde?

The easiest way to measure formaldehyde is with a passive formaldehyde monitor. After keeping the monitor in the home for the amount of time recommended by the company, you send it back to a lab for analysis.

Test kits can be ordered from various vendors. You can search for “formaldehyde test kit” on the internet or call a company who does VOC testing.

The most common guideline for acceptable formaldehyde levels is 0.10 ppm. Few people will have health problems at levels below 0.10 ppm. However, some people are sensitive to formaldehyde and may experience health effects at levels below 0.10 ppm. If you have levels of formaldehyde that exceed 0.10 ppm it is recommended that you take steps to reduce the levels by removing the source if feasible and increase ventilation to bring in more air from the outdoors.

What can be done to reduce the formaldehyde level?

To minimize formaldehyde, ensure that combustion sources are properly maintained and vented outdoors. Avoid smoking indoors.

If you are sensitive to formaldehyde, try to avoid products that contain formaldehyde. Durable press fabrics can contain formaldehyde. Wash the fabric before use.

If you purchase products made of composite wood, you may be able to purchase a floor model where the chemicals, including formaldehyde, have already off-gassed.

Other methods to lower the level of formaldehyde in a home include:

  • Allow products to off-gas:  Before bringing any formaldehyde-containing products into your home, allow them to off-gas outside the home. Leave the new products in your garage or ask the manufacturer to leave the product unsealed in the warehouse for a few days.
  • Ventilate:  By increasing ventilation you can lower the concentration of formaldehyde. This may be accomplished by opening windows or bringing in fresh air through a central ventilation system. Fans can be used to circulate the fresh air.
  • Control the climate:  Formaldehyde is water soluble and reacts to temperature changes. This means that as the temperature and humidity go up so does the amount of formaldehyde released from a product. By keeping the temperature and humidity low, you can decrease the amount of formaldehyde off-gassing into the air.

Finally, another less preferable technique is sealing the source of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde containing products may be sealed by using airtight sealers such as oil based paint, polyurethane varnish, shellac, vinyl wallpaper or special sealers. This technique has been used with limited success when there are large areas of exposed pressed-wood products such as those found in cabinets and shelving. This method is less preferable than those listed above because more new chemicals are introduced into the indoor environment.

So where does this leave the consumer while this is being sorted out?  Holding the short end of the stick, again.  It’s not like there isn’t any precedence for China exporting products to the USA that don’t meet our EPA requirements.  Anyone remember lead based paint being used on childrens toys not too long ago?

What can you do in the meantime?

There are several places online that offer formaldehyde level testing kits that you put in the room where your flooring is installed for the prescribed time, and send the kit back to the company where it’s sent to a lab for analysis and a report is sent back to you with the findings.  There are several Law Firms preparing a class action lawsuit that are easily searchable, we cannot recommend which firm to choose, but they are out there if you look.

This issue is going to be all over the place until it’s resolved.  Will the EPA revise the acceptable levels of formaldehyde exposure?  I hope not.

I don’t suggest anyone panic.  I do suggest testing any Lumber Liquidators laminate or bamboo flooring for formaldehyde off gassing levels.  If it’s well over the EPA guidelines, you have to make a decision of whether or not you want it in your home.  There are no guarantees I am aware of at this time that you will be reimbursed for any loss.

I think it’s worth noting that a few short years ago Dupont launched a campaign about Radon off gassing in granite countertops in effort to sell a granite sealer they developed.  The big difference between the two to me is, granite is a natural product, laminate and bamboo flooring is not.

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