Formaldehyde Emissions from Laminate Flooring in Homes

Recently, our office received numerous calls in response to a 60 Minutes expose on Lumber Liquidator’s importing of noncompliant materials from China into California. This involves elevated formaldehyde emissions from laminate flooring in homes.

These products were labeled CARB 2 compliant, but it turns out they were not.  The result is that tens of thousands of homes in California and perhaps hundreds of thousands of homes across the US and Canada, as referenced in the expose, have had these materials installed in them.

For over 23 years, Indoor Environmental Technologies (IET), located in the Tampa Bay area in Florida, has been evaluating homes and offices to ensure safe and healthy living and working conditions for our clients.  Commercial buildings are required to bring in a quantity of outside air per person sufficient to meet ASHRAE 62.2 Guidelines for acceptable ventilation rates.  While the need for adequate residential ventilation rates is well-established, few homes have the benefit of a designed fresh air exchange system.

Homes built before the energy conservation revolution of the 70’s were generally well-ventilated because they leaked so much air.  With the introduction of very tight and energy efficient homes, we have seen what we call “Tight House Syndrome.”   In these homes the air exchange rates have been diminished through tight construction and prevent the infiltration of outdoor air.    While this is a very good thing for energy conservation, it means homes have ever less ventilation with fresh outside air and therefore dilution of contaminants released inside.  This situation has gotten even worse with the use of spray foam insulation and sealed attics.

ASHRAE 62.2 (Click to download standard) was created in 2003 to address Residential Ventilation Standards similar to those used in commercial buildings.  In it they stress the need to minimize toxin exposure through a ten step list of recommendations.  They also stress the need for some form of mechanical ventilation to ensure adequate air exchange, especially in newer energy efficient buildings.laminate flooring

Our mantra at IET is Build Tight, Ventilate Right, Use Healthy Materials.  The conditions that led to the 60 Minutes Lumber Liquidator’s debacle appear to have been a combination of not using healthy materials and not ventilating right.  According to the 60 Minutes expose, the Chinese plants that manufactured these products could have produced CARB2 compliant materials, but at an additional expense to the manufacturer and therefore potentially to the consumer.  Unfortunately, as a result there may thousands of families with elevated levels of a known carcinogen in their homes.

IET has the ability to perform real time measurements for formaldehyde levels down to what we consider to be safe levels that we would find outdoors in any forest.  (Trees and other plants naturally produce some formaldehyde, generating normal background concentrations that pose no risk).

The Dose is the Poison. Here is a recipe for creating unhealthy conditions in a home or office:

  • Hundreds of square feet of unhealthy laminate flooring off-gassing formaldehyde.
  • An energy-efficient mostly air tight building.
  • No means of supplemental ventilation aside from opening doors and windows (which in a humid climate will cause its own problems).

For additional information on Formaldehyde, see Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Update.

IET continues to create healthy indoor environments through applied science with our inspection services in Tampa Bay, Florida and Southeast US.  Following our recommendations specific to your home or office is the best way to improve the indoor environment.

Please contact IET if you have any questions.

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