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Buying laminated wood flooring? Be aware some laminates from China may emit harmful chemicals

Wood floors are becoming more and more popular as consumers move away from dirt and dust accumulating carpets.

But, according to recent press reports, some laminates imported from China produce potentially hazardous emissions of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, said Colleen Tressler,consumer education specialist for the Federal Trade Commission.

Formaldehyde is used in the manufacture of pressed woods, glue, and preservatives. Glue is used to hold together the thin laminated layers of wood flooring. Formaldehyde can leach from products as a gas and be inhaled.

High levels of formaldehyde may cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, and may cause some types of cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on a rule, which it projects it will complete later this year, to address formaldehyde emissions from wood products.

In the meantime, you can look at the standards for formaldehyde set by the California Air Resources Board or CARB.

To reduce formaldehyde in your home or workplace, follow steps from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. You also can find information about formaldehyde exposure at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry or ATSDR, a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If you’re planning to buy pressed-wood products, the EPA recommends:

  • Consider buying composite wood products certified as compliant with the American National Standards Institute and the Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association: ANSI/HPVA HP-1-2009, for hardwood plywood; ANSI A208.1-2009, for particleboard; or ANSI A208.2-2009, for medium-density fiberboard. These standards include limits on formaldehyde emissions.

In addition to looking for wood flooring meeting these standards, be sure to check the reputation of companies selling the products.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Lumber Liquidators alleging that it sells laminate wood flooring products manufactured in China to consumers in California and nationwide that emit formaldehyde gas at unsafe levels.

A "60 Minutes" news program reported that samples it had tested of Lumber Liquidator’s laminated flooring didn’t meet the CARB standard even though the company said it did.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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