Formaldehyde in Flooring: What You Need to Know

Formaldehyde in Flooring: What You Need to KnowA recent investigative report by CBS news magazine 60 Minutes accused Lumber Liquidators of selling laminate flooring made in China that contains formaldehyde levels that surpass California health standards.  Lumber Liquidators has been a sponsor of The Money Pit in the past, and a company I was proud to be partnered with.  Before I get to an explanation of the allegations and the response from Lumber Liquidators, I want to explain my position on the story.

In my decades of experience as a home inspector, I have never jumped on the panic peddling bandwagon.  At The Money Pit, we take our time, learn the facts and take action if neccessary.  As a home improvement brand that includes the safety of our public, we will consider all of the angles of this story before weighing in.

One important fact that should be brought to light is that the source of the allegation has a substantially potential conflict of interest.  Lumber Liquidators maintains, “These attacks are driven by a small group of short-selling investors who are working together for the sole purpose of making money by lowering our stock price. They are using any means to try and scare our customers with inaccurate allegations. Their motives and methods are wrong and we will fight these false attacks on all fronts.”

In light of this report, you might have some questions about the safety of your flooring.  Here’s what you need to know:

What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a gas that exists in many building products, including cabinets, drapes, paints and stains.

Why might it be an issue?
Formaldehyde exposure may potentially cause a variety of symptoms and adverse health effects, such as eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing and allergic reactions. Long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde has been associated with cancer.

What is CARB?
CARB is the California Air Resources Board. It regulates air quality in California. The CARB regulations are the most stringent rules in the nation.

What products do the allegations apply to?
According to Lumber Liquidators, the allegations made by 60 Minutes only apply to laminate flooring products sourced from China, specifically 145 SKUS, which represented less than 15% of the company’s total sales in 2014.

What is Lumber Liquidators doing to address the allegations?
According to Lumber Liquidators, the company is aggressively reviewing the suppliers and products cited in the report to confirm compliance to its stringent quality and environmental standards. In the event the investigation reveals a compliance issue, Lumber Liquidators says it will reject all noncompliant shipments and require the supplier to take immediate corrective action to include identifying any additional lots that may be affected.  Such product would not be offered for sale.

What can you do if you are concerned about formaldehyde levels in your home?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, formadyhyde in wood-based products dissapates in as little as 6-10 months.  If you have had materials like laminate flooring in your home for a while, and have not experienced any symptoms, then you probably don’t need to do anything. 

If you are experiencing respiratory symptoms or if you’re concerned, you can have the air in your home tested. There are several companies that make home formaldyhyde testing kits. The easiest for a homeowner may be the sodium bisulfate kit. It costs about $100. You place it in the room you’re concerned about and follow the directions on the test, then send it out for analysis. The Consumer Product Safety Commission considers anywhere from .1 to .3 ppm (parts per million) to be “normal.”

Formaldehyde is released more when the atmosphere is humid – so summer may be a better time to test – or at least re-test.  You can learn more about flooring safety by watching my recent appearance on Fox Business

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