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October 24, 2013
Comparing Fed and CARB formaldehyde standards

A wide range of industries—including but not limited to manufacturers of plywood and furniture as well as builders of homes and motor—are closely watching EPA’s development of two final rules to limit emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products. 

Proposals for the rules were published in the June 10, 2013, Federal Register, and the comment periods for both were extended in response to requests from business associations that emphasized the substantial economic implications of the rulemaking.  The major industry concern appears to be whether EPA’s proposed emissions standards differ from the airborne toxic control measure (ATCM) developed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.

TSCA amendment

The federal rulemaking originates in the Composite Wood Products Act,which President Obama signed into law on July 7, 2010, as an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The amendment establishes formaldehyde emissions standards identical to CARB’s Phase II ATCM standards for hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard.  The EPA proposal applies to those products when sold, supplied, offered for sale, or manufactured in the United States. 

The TSCA amendment also directs the EPA to consider a number of elements for inclusion in the implementing regulations, many of which are aspects of the CARB program, including labeling, chain of custody requirements, sell-through provisions, ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde resins, and third-party testing. 

Requirements for a third-party certification framework for the formaldehyde standards for composite wood products were included in a separate proposal and do not appear to have prompted major opposition from industry.

According to comments submitted by the American Chemistry Council, EPA’s proposal emissions standards are not technology-based and differ significantly from CARB’s ATCM. 

“Manufacturers continue to rely on formaldehyde-based resin technologies as a proven solution to meet or exceed the CARB Phase II emission standards,” states the ACC in a news release.  “The proposed rule, however, unjustifiably disadvantages formaldehyde-containing resins, despite the effectiveness and capability of formaldehyde-based resins to meet strict emission standards.”
Several more-specific inconsistencies between EPA’s proposal and the CARB standards were raised by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. 

According to Advocacy:

  • Entities are required to maintain records for 3 years in contrast to 2 years under the ATCM.
  • There are differences in EPA’s definitions of “hardwood plywood,” “veneer,” and “retailer.”
  • Requirements for additional quality control testing when changes are made to mill production apply to different entities.
  • Other differences are found in EPA’s retention requirements for lots selected for testing and the inclusion of laminated products in the definition of hardwood plywood.

Potential CARB amendments

Advocacy adds:
“Many of these inconsistencies in the proposed rules capture additional entities and products for regulation.  For example, the ATCM applies to laminated products made by fabricators while EPA’s proposed rule applies to laminated products made by manufacturers and fabricators.  The ATCM does not include raised panels in the definition of panel while EPA’s proposed rule incorporates raised panels into the definition of panel.  The ATCM imposes emission standards for hardwood plywood with veneer or composite cores only while EPA’s proposed rule imposes emission standards on all hardwood plywood core types.  Finally, the ATCM’s definition of veneer only includes wood-based materials while the definition of veneer in EPA’s proposed rule expands the definition to include woody grass materials.”

Advocacy is also concerned that the gap between CARB’s ATCM and any EPA final rule may grow since the CARB is now considering amendments to its regulations, including a possible exemption for additional products. 

“EPA should work closely with CARB so that any amendments to the ATCM are captured in EPA’s regulations,” says Advocacy.

Advocacy’s comment letter on EPA’s proposed emissions standards

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