The California Air Resources Board (CARB) to date has, we believe, the only applicable regulation for formaldehyde emissions in the country, but is legally applicable only to products sold in California.
This formaldehyde emissions standard is not for laminate flooring as such, but rather for all composite wood materials of certain types: hardwood veneer plywood, particle board, medium density fiberboard (MDF) and thin MDF. According to the standard presently in effect (CARB2), these products must emit no more than 0.05 to 0.13 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde, depending on product type. The test used to measure formaldehyde emissions must comply with ASTM E 1333-96(2002). Congress has passed a law establishing national standards, which it is assumed will be similar to those of CARB2. However, implementing regulations have not yet come into effect.
Note: Most laminate flooring probably uses either MDF, which is limited at present to 0.11 ppm, or thin MDF, presently limited to 0.13 ppm.
These formaldehyde emissions standards apply to a component of the laminate material, not to the environment the material is in. The formaldehyde emissions rates in and of themselves say little about the concentrations people in the indoor environment will be exposed to. For example, if the material were installed on a screened porch, any formaldehyde released would immediately dissipate and could not build up to excessive concentrations.
The formaldehyde emissions rate in the standard applies not to assembled laminate flooring, but to specified composite materials, which normally form the substrate between two layers of plastic in laminate flooring. Since the formaldehyde can only escape into the indoor environment at the edges of laminate flooring, it is reasonable to assume that actual formaldehyde emissions are considerably lower than if the same surface area of non-laminated MDF was present in the environment.
It is also generally believed that formaldehyde emissions diminish over time, as the formaldehyde offgasses. A year or two after installation, the formaldehyde emission rate could be much lower.
There has been some discussion over whether it would be legal to sell products inaccurately labeled as CARB2 compliant outside California, where these regulations are not in effect. While doing so might not violate specific regulations in other states, it would certainly seem to be fraudulent to intentionally sell a product that was not accurately labeled.