Formaldehyde Off-Gassing from Laminate Flooring

I was delighted to present a 2 hour short course to the Home Inspectors of TN (HITA) in Nashville, this past Saturday Morning (8/1/2015).  Sixty home inspectors signed up and the room was packed as usually.  HITA inspectors take their CEUs seriously.

Formaldehyde Off-Gassing in Laminate Flooring Course

Formaldehyde Off-Gassing in Laminate Flooring Course

The whole issue of formaldehyde in laminate flooring hit the spotlight of national media attention when Lumber Liquidators was accused of illegally importing laminate flooring from its plants in China for distribution in California.  California has strict formaldehyde emission standards as defined by the California Air Resource Board under the CARB Act.  Formaldehyde is recognized worldwide as a dangerous carcinogen.  California has led the way to keep formaldehyde at extremely low concentrations in our homes.  The Feds are following suite this year by enacting the CARB act nationwide.  Formaldehyde also has significant non-cancer health effects.  The common symptoms are throat, eye and nose irritation; decreased lung function and wheezing or shortness of breath.

chemical formula formaldehyde

Chemical Formula of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde in laminate flooring is found in the core layer of the flooring.  Laminate flooring has four layers.  From bottom to top they include the base, core, design, and wear layer.  The core is generally made from high-density fiberboard or particle board.  The core is held together by a resin that contains a significant proportion of urea formaldehyde.  Correctly manufactured core, like the core produced by U.S. manufacturers, have very little off-gassing, because if produced correctly the formaldehyde is bound in the core material and cannot escape.  However, Chinese manufacturers, cut corners, and use cheap, high emitting resin, which can be 3 to 6 times over CARB standards for emissions in the final product.  Lumber Liquidators is accused of illegally selling the high emitting flooring for an exorbitant profit in the U.S., because it is so cheap to make in China, compared to strictly regulated and expensive U.S. manufactured flooring.

Laminate Flooring Layers.  Think of it as a four layered cake.

Laminate Flooring Layers. Think of it as a four layered cake.

The number of homes having high-emitting flooring is uncertain, but experts estimate that in California alone ten of thousands of homes have it and nationwide hundred of thousands of homes have it.  What can you do if inspect a home with laminate?

  • You may want to download the American Industrial Hygiene Fact Sheet or share this link with them.  Here is the document: AIHA_FormaldehydeFactSheet_7.2.15
  • Also be aware that most of the high emitting laminate would have been installed between 2012-2015.
  • If the homeowner has an extra box around, look at the label.  If it is Made in China and Lumber Liquidators, the chances of it off-gassing significantly increase.
  • If the homeowner is complaining of symptoms as stated above, there could be a problem.
  • The olfactory sense (smell) threshold for formaldehyde is 0.500 ppm, which is really low.  The homeowner probably smells some kind of chemical-like odor in the home.
  • There are also tests available for both the indoor air and the flooring.  Contact Assured Bio Labs for more info.  (865) 813-1700 or info@assuredbio.com.
  • If the flooring is found to be high emitting, the best solution is removal.  However, I suggest maintaining any documentation, labels, and pieces of the board for future litigation use.  Lumber Liquidators does offer to run their own test on the flooring, if it qualifies.  I’m not sure what they do if the flooring is positive. Here is the link to their site:  Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring test.  We can preserve samples under laboratory conditions for a fee.
Lumber Liquidators label that they allegedly placed on high-emitting laminate that they made in China

Lumber Liquidators label that they allegedly placed on high-emitting laminate that they made in China

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