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Formaldehyde Emissions

Formaldehyde in Your Home

Scientist

Formaldehyde is a compound chemical made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that is found literally everywhere, since it occurs naturally and is synthesized for industrial use in everyday products. The list of household and personal care products that contain small amounts of formaldehyde is endless, and it can also be found in processed wood products, like furniture, siding, and flooring. While it is a very useful chemical used to make clothes permanent-pressed, as a preservative, and as part of the makeup of adhesive products, it is also dangerous and exposure can wreak havoc with your health in high concentration.

Reactions to formaldehyde vary. Some people have no reaction, while others have severe and potentially life-threatening response to exposure. Symptoms include eye, nose, and throat irritation, respiratory difficulties like wheezing and coughing, skin rash, headaches and fatigue, and in some cases, extreme allergic reactions. Allergies can develop at any time, even in a person who has never been prone to them. Formaldehyde is also a suspected carcinogen and is proven to trigger attacks in people with asthma.

The good news is that formaldehyde emissions decrease over time, so a house built in the 1970s before there were any emission standards in place is not likely to still leach formaldehyde gas into your home. The most exposure occurs when the wood product is newly installed. Formaldehyde, unlike some other chemicals found in the home, does not accumulate in the fat cells over time.

Source of Formaldehyde Emissions

A great deal of wood flooring is manufactured of layers of wood particles or veneers pressed together and sealed with adhesives containing urea formaldehyde resin. Low-end flooring, even made from materials that you expect to be “green” can be manufactured with this adhesive, and have formaldehyde emissions of 0.237ppm as a result. Because the real danger is in the manufacturing process, it’s a mistake to assume something is eco-friendly because it is made from an eco-friendly product. Before you make a decision to buy, make sure you get all the facts.

Formaldehyde Ratings

European standards recommended in 2000 by the European Panel Industry defined formaldehyde emissions ratings. Original ratings included E1, measuring 9mg/100g and below, E2, measuring greater than 9mg/100g to below 30mg/100g, and E3, measuring a greater than 30mg/100g ratio. Pressure for more stringent standards led to a new ratings classification, E0, based on emissions measuring 0.5mg per liter and below. Europeans test methodology is based on the Perforator Test Method, which measures the formaldehyde levels inside the wood specimen.

Japan has also defined formaldehyde emissions ratings. The Japanese JIS/JAS Formaldehyde Adhesive Emission Standards, defined by the set forth by the Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) and Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) departments, use a different testing methodology, the Desiccator Test Method which measures emissions released from the wood. Ratings are assigned in four categories, F*, F**, F***, and F****, with F**** having the lowest level of formaldehyde emissions below 0.005 mg/m2h. Comparing these two standards is difficult due to the different methods and to different units of measurement.

The United States has been slow to address this concern, but a rating system released in 2007 by the California Air Regulatory Board (CARB) aims to correct that. The Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) specifies staggered implementation dates ranging from 2009 to 2010 (depending on product) for a two-phase plan that calls for compliance on emissions levels in particleboard, MDF, thin MDF and hardwood plywood. CARB studies suggest that up to 5% of formaldehyde emissions are generated by composite wood products.

Phase 1 of the CARB plan already in effect requires that adhesive formaldehyde emissions measure equal to or less than 0.08 ppm (parts per million), a figure that exceeds OSHA standards already in play.

Phase 2, set for January 1, 2010, will force formaldehyde emissions in adhesives even lower, to 0.05 ppm, a higher standard than that of the European E0.

Logistical Reality

The cost of trying to regulate a global building industry is significant on every level. Enforcement of a U.S. standard presents a problem of staggering proportion in terms of manpower and logistics, considering how much processed wood is imported from overseas and the sheer volume of product that would have to be monitored. For U.S. manufacturers, the burden of retooling to meet new standards falls to them and ultimately to the consumer, because the cost is likely be passed on.

The Composite Panel Association (CPA) and other industry leaders have voiced some concerns about this ruling and asked for modifications. Citing costs and the difficulty of testing finished products, Bill Perdue, of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, says the impact could be tremendous, especially as it affects small manufacturers, like thousands of cabinet and furniture makers. Businesses located in California will face a distinct disadvantage in supply.

For the California Air Regulatory Board, the choice was clear and the vote unanimous, health concerns supersede cost. Expectations are that the rest of the country will follow suit, and U.S. manufacturers will be eager to get onboard and stay ahead of legislation sure to follow.

The Future is Here

There are already products on the market that have low VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions, some of them for years. In order to know exactly what you’re getting, find out what rating the flooring has. Look for E0, E1, F****, P1 or P2 CARB ratings for the most environmentally sound investment, and if the flooring is to be glued down, ask for VOC-free adhesives. It may cost a little more, but cleaner air will be worth it.

2015 Updates

Regulations regarding formaldehyde emission standards are continuing to evolve today. While not nationwide regulations yet, the emission standards initially established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) are set to be mirrored across the country by proposed rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More information on what EPA is doing to protect against formaldehyde exposure can be found here.

As mentioned above, the CARB Phase 2 (also known as California Phase 2 Compliant) standards are currently in effect in the state of California. For more information on what this regulation means for consumers, click here.

(81) Comments

  1. I have suffered from a 3 and a half long migraine that left me unable to even be able to get up.
    I able still having getting them every day .It is controlling my life but they have tried to connect it to my lupus. My dog also started loosing his hair only his top coat, the vet tied this to old age. I now am tying them together and wondering if they are related to my new Bruce solid wood flooring . Where can I find a air quality test in my small town in Tn. ? Please email me back.

  2. I am purchasing an apartment with Chinese bamboo flooring. I live in an area where we leave the windows open all day. Does anyone know if this is helpful in reducing the formaldehyde emission? Also, do air purifiers help? Thanks, Scott

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  4. I had a beautiful Pergo laminate floor installed 1 month ago. 2 – 3 weeks after installation I started getting an itchy rash. It is now all over my trunk area and my hairline. Could this be a reaction to the formaldehyde in the flooring? Went to urgent care today and got a course of prednisone to see if it will clear up. Sure do not want to tear up the new floor, but can’t live with this reaction either.
    Have you heard of this?

    • Hi Nancy,

      I’m sorry to hear about your issues. One thing to consider would be a home air quality inspection, just to help you to pinpoint any trouble areas in your home which may be adding to this situation. Once you determine the source, if any, you’ll be in a better position to make decisions about what to remove, and how to treat your symptoms too.

      I hope that helps!

    • Every floor product should already have a rating for this, and if you’re buying new flooring materials, it’s a good conversation to have with your vendor. But, if you’re in doubt as to the air quality in your space in general, you can hire an indoor air quality professional to test for emissions to give you a sense of your existing situation.

      I hope this helps!

  5. My son has asthma, severe allergies and sleep problems.
    I am looking at your Jasper Engineered Hardwood – Handscraped Birch Collection
    Birch – Texas brown / 5″ / 1/2″ / Random Lengths
    SKU: 10075493
    Is this flooring CARB Complaint and where is it manufactured?

    Thanks
    Jeanette

  6. Hi Rob, I sent a response back to your email. Thanks for getting back to me. I have arranged for air quality testing next week and have also found out that my flooring was made in China, from the Distributor.
    Not sure how to proceed after the testing. Do you know how long emissions will continue? Should this flooring be removed (as I still suffer multiple symptoms) or will a new floor just start the mess over again? Is there a Gov’t agency I can consult with?
    Many thanks for your help with this,
    Janet

  7. I had new 12.3 laminate flooring installed in Dec. 2010. That Dec. I caught pneumonia and suddenly, despite treatment with antibiotics (2x), had a full year of coughing, wheezing, infections, productive phlegm and headaches. All the tests for asthma came back negative, but I have since been on meds for asthma to control these issues. I have improved somewhat over the past 4 years, but still take asthma meds (despite not having asthma) and still have a cough/phlegm issue, plus increased susceptibility to upper respiratory infection. Drs are at a loss as to what is wrong. Reading about the laminate floor issues, I now wonder if I have been “poisoned” by formaldehyde as all this started when my new living room laminate floors were installed! The first year was the worst, but it is on-going. How long before the formaldehyde emissions reduce to a point where they no longer affect health, or will they ever? Do I need to remove these floors or is it too late and the damage is permanent, if it is my flooring? Is there a test I can do to see whether this was the cause of my sudden-onset illness?? Thank you.

    • Hi Janet,

      Have you considered arranging a professional indoor air quality test? That might help determine whether or not there is some environmental reason for your illness, and that the environment in question is your home.

      Hope this helps.

  8. We had laminate floors put in 3 years ago and I never did know what that smell was. I always tried to cover it up but it seems to have gotten worse. We had the house closed for a few months and when we came home, the smell was overwhelming..nose and eyes burning, sore throat, chemical smell in my mouth. Just read about the health problems with Laminate floors. Who do I call for testing this? Is removing it going to solve the problem?

    • Wow. That’s sounds like something that goes way beyond a problem with your flooring, Sandy. If you haven’t already, contact a service that specializes in home toxin inspections.

      Hope this helps!

  9. Hi. We just installed laminate flooring in the attic and was unaware of the potential toxicity of this product. I checked the box and it is labled as Carbon phase 2. Do I need to be concerned about the flooring? This room will be used as a play/art room. I have a six year old. What do you think? Thanks.

    • Hi Cathy, I don’t know the type of flooring you’ve purchased and don’t have the final word. But, generally speaking any product that uses glue or plastic in its manufacture has some level of toxicity in it. This includes laminate flooring, which uses glue in its core layer. That doesn’t mean that the flooring should be characterized by toxicity. The reason the ratings exist is to show you that the product has been tested and has fallen within certain parameters so as to make it safe to install.

      When in doubt, my advice is to contact our product experts if you still feel uneasy. I hope that helps!

  10. Taking off Your Shoes Before Entering House.
    You may be surprised to learn that one of the simplest and most effective ways of going toxic-free is taking off your shoes before or upon entering your home. By adopting this one easy habit, you will virtually leave thousands of potentially harmful (not to mention disgusting!) chemicals at the door.

    Ever wonder what all we step on each day? Do you know what exactly is on the bottom of your shoes? Chances are you don’t want to know, but if you’re dragging it around your floors and into your carpet, you are—without a doubt—potentially contaminating your whole family.

    Picture this:

    You stop to fill up your gas tank on your way home from work. You step out and stand where John Doe just dripped gasoline before you pulled up, then you head home and walk through your living room to pick up little Suzy and give her a kiss. Suzy sits back down on the floor to pick up her puzzle pieces, then decides she wants some cheerios and grabs a handful and shoves them in her mouth.
    Are you with us here?
    Little Suzy just put John Doe’s gas in her mouth because you didn’t take off your shoes.
    If you give even brief consideration to how many chemicals and items of pure disgust you walk through each day with your shoes, it won’t be a difficult decision to start removing them at home. You’ll do your family a world of good … and there’s possibly nothing simpler than this one intelligent change in your daily routine.

  11. Were thinking about installing an engineered flooring in our house and after reading this blog not sure if it’s a wise move.The brand is an American made company, (Anderson) it is in the virginia vintage line the species is walnut and color is trace. How do I find out if this is a low formaldehyde low voc product? Do you have any information for me on how to research this product. We would also use the Bostiks vapor lock adhesive which they say is a low voc
    Product 0.1% is there anything else I need to look at? Thank You!

  12. We have lost 3 dogs- a lab/mastiiff mix, a german shepherd, and a golden retriever to cancer in the last 3 years. i am devastated. we have laminate flooring by Passion for Floors. It was made in China, and the box states compliant with California 93120 phase 1. My sister just told me about the laminate connection. Would you please help me and tell me if these floors could have caused this? Thank you so much.

  13. We have heated flooring in our basement and we are about to install laminate flooring. Will formaldehyde be released every time we heat the floors? Should we use hardwood instead? Can someone recommend a safer floor product? Tile? Wood?

  14. We gave heated flooring in our basement and we are about to install laminate flooring. Will formaldehyde be released every time we heat the floors?

  15. 0.1 milligram per 100 –>milligramsgrams<– is the same as one milligram per kilogram, or one ppm. I think this is what the original poster meant.

    [Quote] Which would mean that the european E1 standard 9mg/100g = 90ppm !!!
    Now, the CARB Phase 1 standard is 0.08ppm. So the European standard is MUCH worse!
    Is this correct? [End quote]

    No, it's not correct. It's not really possible to directly compare the two standards, because according to this article E1 is a standard for formaldehyde content inside the product as measured by a specific test presumably at some specific point in the product's manufacture or subsequent lifetime; while CARB phase 1 is a standard for formaldehyde emissions into the air under some set of standard conditions and measurement specified by CARB.

    European standard E0 is a standard for emissions, similar to CARB; but it still may not be trivial to directly compare them because they may specify different test conditions and/or measurement methods. Sometimes the devil is in the details in things like this.

  16. The strangest thing about manufactured wood flooring emmissions (like cheap carpet emmissions) is that the cloud of emmissions has “hang time”. Even when the offending flooring and carpeting is removed, the noxious smell does not leave the room the flooring was removed from. It mostly hangs over the original space, and doesn’t really seep into other rooms unless blown by a fan. But trying to remove the contaminated air is a major issue – is there a remediation company that can set up a temporary air exchange to suck out all the bad air?

    I only have college-level chemistry to go by, but it seems that the higher molecular weight of the urea-formaldehyde containing emmissions keeps it hovering over the original location. If the molecular weight of the compound is heavier than air, it cannot easily spread, even if it is “volatile” which simply means that it a gaseous form of the compound WILL not move out of the solid floor product and into the air. Yes it exists in gas form, but it is much heavier. I would love the opinion here of a professional chemist. Back to the main issue – once installed, even if removed the noxious product emissions will be very difficult to remove from the enclosed area it was installed in. Also unlike bad odors like strong perfume, cigarette smoke or food odors like curry, I have found that treating an area that previously contained manufactured wood or cheap synthetic carpeting does not get better with an ozone shock treatment. Ozone shock is very effective for removing natural odors and smoke, but useless on urea formaldyhyde. Why? Is it that UF is not as highly charged a particle? Ozone is very highly charged, binds to other charged particles, and neutralizes them. But UF seems resistent – wold love to know why.

    This is important to me because Manufactured Wood flooring aggrevates my health. When they became pervasive in the construction boom in the late 90s, I thought I was losing my mind when I couldn’t find a new house that I could purchase – they all contained manufactured wood flooring among other UF containing manufacturing products, plasticizers in the cement, and noxious synthetic carpeting. I took an unusual approach to dealing with this issue – I became a real estate agent. I needed to know exactly what was causing my problems when I was exposed (aversion to the smell, brain fog, racing heart). What I found was that almost every piece of “new construction” that was part of a complex or coroporate-built housing from 1995 on contained these irritants. One-of-a-kind privately built new housing commissioned by wealthy people often used more premium materials and had less of this problem. Homes built with real wood, wool or high quality synthetic rugs were tolerable. These homes were often built by people who were raised in high-end communities like Princeton and had different standards for quality. On the other side of the millionaire spectrum were the people who commissioned new homes, typically is developements, where the cheap manufactured wood products were common, and these homes had all the same problems for me as a cheaper K Hov or the like type of home.

    So my solution was to purchase a 1930s home – all original materials, original flooring, original plaster. I use all non-VOC products for maintenance, repair and upgrades. It is the ONLY way to live if you are chemically sensitive.

    Recently I began looking at the possibility of moving to apartment living to get out of the never-ending maintenance of owning a home. I discovered the only apartment buildings that were a possiblity were those built through 1995-ish. And there is major trouble brewing for the chemically sensitive in the older buildings – as I toured them, I realized that every condo owner who sublets is replacing their old floors and carpets with manufactured wood floors. It is nearly impossible in the NY/NJ area to find a rental that does not contain MF wood floors or cheap synthetic carpets. I have had to give my real estate agent strict instructions – first inquire about the floors – unless they are original or put in before 1995 do not show me the apartment.

  17. We purchased 28 boxes Cali Bamboo strand woven fossilized click lock flooring. We set the individual boards out on pallets as instructed to let them acclimate to the house before installation. The odor emitted from the boards was very pungent. I finally put a fan in the room to allow the smell to go to the outdoors leaving all the windows open. However, I got a sore throat, headache, fever and have chest congestion that is not going away. The symptoms are flu/cold like. After two weeks, the odor has subsided, but I suspect the formaldehyde emissions are very dangerous to the elderly, kids, dogs, and anyone working with this product. There is no warning label from the manufacturer as to the danger of inhaling or handling this flooring product. This flooring needs to be investigated as to the level of emissions and labeled as such warning of the formaldehyde fumes.

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  19. Installed Schon engineered 5 weeks ago, despite airing out the room, the dog and I have
    developed. respiratory issues. Is tear out the only fix, what options for flooring would you
    suggest? Contacted seller 1 week ago of issue but as yet no response to a warranty.
    Was rated E1.

    • Have you looked into arranging an air quality check? That might help to confirm that the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to chemicals. You can either arrange a professional to come to your home, or you can buy a kit and do it yourself. It might be a good idea to try the latter, and then arrange for the former in any case.

  20. ripped up carpet and found that my entire house has flooring which states a warning
    “Urea formaldahyde resin may release formaldelhyde vapors in low consentrations..can irriate eyes and upper respiratory systems epecially in those suseptable to those such prone to allergies or respiratory….etc.” the entire house is that. House was built in around 1995…actually a modular home. belonged to my husband who passed in 2005; died from lung cancer; he also had asthma as a child…..is there any recourse for replacement of this flooring? Is the manufacturor responsible for this? Wasnt there something regarding this in the trailors they gave to people in the Katrina disaster? My nephew now 20 yrs old, moved here 6 months ago, had asthma as a child….now experiencing same symptoms as a child, recently received treatment from doctor, unknown reason for reoccurance of this. Another note is that we have had 3 animals die from cancer related illnesses in the last 8 years, and prior to that my husband had 3 more animals who died from cancer as well. Could it be related in some way? Are we at risk here? I am just asking….not blaming.

  21. i had floating floor on three levels of my house .we are all getting sick from it .when we took it out it left a strong smell behind .one floor had to paint to get rid of the smell.floating or click flooring is not safe.get rid of it .

  22. I work as a designer in a wood shop where the carpenters are using lots of chinese birch plywood. Two truck loads of this plywood was delivered to our workspace in November (5,000sf warehouse) and I and several others have been sick ever since. We all thought it was just touches of the flu but they are lasting for weeks. Terrible coughing, fatigue, low grade fever at times, sinus issues. I went to the Dr. and he gave me a Zpack. It did not help any of my symptoms. I was away from the warehouse over the holidays and the symptoms did subside a bit. As soon as I returned to work they returned with a vengeance. Is there a test of some kind to perform to the workspace to detect hazardous conditions?

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