Beware of toxic wood

OK, so you buy new kitchen cabinets, furniture or put in new flooring made with composite wood. And you got it on the cheap.

You could be in danger of formaldehyde.

Most composite wood contain adhesives, bonding agents or solvents containing formaldehyde. Contact with too much of it is dangerous. It’s a carcinogen that can cause cancer. The colorless gas also can cause allergic reactions, as well as heart palpitations, memory loss, difficulty breathing and aching joints.

While makers of wood products made in the United States have voluntarily adopted standards to limit formaldehyde levels, cheaper products made overseas and imported still contain high concentrations of the chemical compound. And the imports have been increasing dramatically in recent years, especially from China.

But a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), establishing national health standards for formaldehyde in composite wood products, is  making headway.

The legislation — the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act — passed the U.S. Senate today. The bill, establishing the toughest standards in the world, would apply to both domestic and foreign imports. If it becomes law, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.


One thought on “Beware of toxic wood

  1. This bill FAILS to protect anyone! What matters is the formaldehyde concentration in room air. This depends on ventilation rate, temperature, volume of material, and rate of off-gassing. This bill ONLY controls the rate of off-gassing, while ignoring 3 equally important factors. Homes using California Air Resources Board (CARB) Phase 2 compliant material will still exceed California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessments (COEHHA) recommended concentration.

    CARB published a multi-year study Dec 15, 2009 that states:

    “Nearly all homes (98%) had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation…” The median concentration was 4 times COEHHA’s recommendation.

    Researcher’s PowerPoint:

    Peer reviewed journal, Synergist’s, cover article February 2010 documents that ‘green’ homes have even higher concentrations of formaldehyde. Additional scientific information was presented at a conference in Denver in May 2010.

    High levels of formaldehyde were also reported deep in the data tables of the drywall study including the control houses built using USA drywall. Other countries, Canada and Australia, are also having high residential formaldehyde.

    The bill fails to address non-wood product such as fiberglass wall insulation. This is often the single largest source of formaldehyde in homes. Commonly, formaldehyde from wall insulation alone is several times COEHHA’s recommended maximum concentration. Formaldehyde goes right through the drywall like water and the Tyvek prevents any from escaping to the exterior.

    Another unregulated source is bamboo. Bamboo is a grass product opposed to wood. When a formaldehyde resin is used the area is so large this rapidly becomes an issue.

    The bill does level the field, but does NOTHING to protect occupants’ health. For health, regulating the final concentration of formaldehyde in the room air with doors and windows closed at 78 degrees, while recording the high and low outside temperatures is the critical item. This would allow consumers to compare different builders’ products. Builders would have a significant incentive to use material that didn’t use formaldehyde if they had to report the final concentration.

    In California, children under 5 started showing increase rate of cancer and asthma in 1980. That was just 18 months after new permits would require homes to use fiberglass insulation that used a formaldehyde resin. Don’t forget there would be just about an 18-month time lag to build, sell, close, occupy, exposure occupants, and finally seek medical treatment. Most believe formaldehyde cause both cancer and asthma. Unfortunately, this bill will keep the status quo going for several more years.

    Industry was supported this bill because it does nothing significant and will take the pressure off until consumers realize nothing has changed. A bill actually designed to protect the consumer by requiring the formaldehyde concentration not to exceed COEHHA’s or any other reasonable 24 x 7 x 365 exposure would never have the support of industry and therefore never pass despite the decades of data on the topic.

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