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Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

by / Tuesday, 03 March 2015 / Published in Environmental Testing
Low Prices often equal Low Quality - You get what you pay for?

Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

A recent investigative journalist story exposed Lumber Liquidators formaldehyde testing and revealed a rather unfortunate tale that may affect hundreds of thousands of homes across the US. During active Federal investigations for suspicion of using illegally harvested lumber from Russia, it turns out one of the largest flooring distributors in the US may have also snuck high-formaldehyde content composite wood products into California. Whether they did this knowingly to save on production costs is heretofore unknown, but this recent 60 Minutes news story – a double whammy – has sent Lumber Liquidators stock plummeting.

Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

Lumber Liquidators Stock Plummets on News of High Formaldehyde Tests

 Perhaps this is a more accurate representation of where the company should be valued, if they’ve been cheating the system by buying illegal wood and mislabeling their products “CARB II compliant” so they can sell in California?

Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

Low Prices often equal Low Quality – You get what you pay for?

California Formaldehyde Emission Levels

Environmental regulations often start in Europe, then show up in California, and ultimately are adopted across the US. That is exactly what has happened with allowable formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. Composite wood includes plywood, OSB, MDF, and much of the lower-cost “hardwood” flooring options in the US are subject to more stringent formaldehyde emission regulations when sold in CA. But it’s looking like even Californians weren’t safe from the Lumber Liquidators’ laminate flooring made in China.

The California Air Resource Board (CARB) – who sets the most stringent formaldehyde emission standards in the US – has based their allowable emissions on clear health data indicating formaldehyde can be a real problem for human health. Too many projects build with crummy materials full of toxins, then lock occupants up in air-tight buildings without adequate mechanical ventilation, and then we’re surprised when American’s have higher rates of asthma and other respiratory irritations?

Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

EPA Health Data from Inhalation of Formaldehyde

The 60 minutes expose shows formaldehyde test results from products purchased around the country. The Lumber Liquidators formaldehyde testing was performed by 3rd party laboratories. Red arrows show allowable CARB limits. Note that most of the Lumber Liquidators’ laminate flooring tested above the CA allowable limit (lower red line). Also note how many samples were over 1000 times higher than what should be allowed into CA.

Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

Lumber Liquidators Actual Emissions 1000x Over California Limits

CARB is fighting the good fight, and soon the US will have similarly strict limits for formaldehyde emissions. But if Lumber Liquidators can get away with this… it makes me wonder if enough oversight and enforcement is in place to truly protect our population from unnecessary indoor air pollution such as formaldehyde. I guess this alarming news is more job security for us at Healthy Building Science.

Lumber Liquidators Chinese Laminate Mislabeled?

This part of the story was most troubling to me. Apparently the Chinese manufacturers of Lumber Liquidators product were knowingly saving the client money AND applying “CARB Compliant” labeling on these products. This will inevitably become a case of who-knew-what-when.

Lumber Liquidators Formaldehyde Testing

Lumber Liquidators CARB Compliant Sticker – Fails 3rd Party Formaldehyde Testing

How to find out if my flooring has high formaldehyde content?

There are basically two types of environmental testing services relevant to this story:

  • Chamber Testing of Bulk Materials. There are many testing methods available for chamber tests, but CA has their own standard methods by which manufacturer’s must comply before they can apply the stamp “CARB-Compliant.” Most of these tests range from $700-2500 per sample. Soon we’ll post another blog illustrating interesting results from recent tests we ran on building materials. It is neat to see what VOCs, including formaldehyde, are emitted from raw solid wood and even unfinished drywall.
  • Ambient Air Quality Testing. Here, too, there are many different options and standards for testing. It takes a good environmental inspector or industrial hygienist to know what test is most appropriate. It also takes an expert to interpret these results and put them in the context of each particular case.

Class Action on the Way!

So the class action law suit is on the way.  In the meantime we’re doing various formaldehyde chamber tests for VOCs and formaldehyde on bulk materials, and we continue to offer ambient air testing for homes, offices, medical and institutional buildings. Whether you’ve got Lumber Liquidator product in your building or not, let us know if you’d like your air or building materials tested for formaldehyde. If you suspect your building has contaminated flooring it is prudent to do your own testing and possibly time to join a class action suit.

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