Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

The mention of the word “formaldehyde” might conjure up memories of a school science class or museum visits and seeing animals preserved in liquid-filled jars. While formaldehyde may no longer be used for these purposes, it is still used in adhesives to make composite wood products, like particle board and other building materials for furniture and other products. Composite wood products are made from pieces, chips, particles of wood that are bonded together with resins that may contain formaldehyde. The chemical can cause adverse health effects, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as respiratory symptoms and cancer.

In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. As required by the Act, today we are proposing limits on how much formaldehyde can be released from a variety of composite wood products and to establish requirements to ensure these products comply with the regulations. The proposed rules align where practical with existing requirements for composite wood products in California.

These requirements, when final, will further reduce the public’s exposure to the formaldehyde found in many products in our homes and workplaces. For new and renovated homes formaldehyde may be reduced up to 26%. Also, when final, they will encourage the industry trend toward switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in products, further reducing you and your family’s exposure to formaldehyde.

While many manufacturers are already complying with the requirements in place in California, EPA’s actions will ensure the same protections for all Americans, no matter what State you live in. In addition, EPA’s proposal expands upon the California regulation by including laminated products, which is estimated to reduce formaldehyde emissions from these products 45 – 90%. The actions will also ensure that the composite wood products sold in this country meet the same standards for formaldehyde regardless of whether they are made in the United States or abroad.

The proposals released today are an example of what can be accomplished when there is adequate statutory authority for action. This lies in stark contrast to the lack of authority EPA has to regulate other chemicals and highlights the on-going need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, this country’s chemicals management legislation. All Americans have the right to expect that the chemicals used in the products they use every day are safe. The time has come to provide EPA with the tools necessary to protect you and your families from unnecessary risks from all chemicals.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 26 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.