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June 14, 2013
Formaldehyde proposal for wood products

Under a new EPA proposal, a range of composite wood products would be subject to national limits on emissions of formaldehyde.  The proposal would implement and enforce the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act (Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which President Obama signed into law in July 2010.  

Under Title VI, the EPA must promulgate regulations ensuring compliance with the emissions standards and  must include provisions relating to labeling, chain of custody, sell-through, ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde resins, finished goods, third-party testing and certification, auditing and reporting of third-party certifiers, recordkeeping, enforcement, laminated products, and exceptions for products and components containing de minimis amounts of composite wood products.  Most of these requirements are contained in the emissions-related proposal; in a second proposal, the EPA addresses the third-party certification program required by Title VI.

Katrina trailers

Congress enacted TSCA Title VI following years of controversy over alleged formaldehyde emissions from 120,000 trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up to house people left homeless after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005.  The hurricane caused an estimated $81 billion in damage.  Reports of people in the trailers becoming ill soon followed.  It was learned that much of the wood used in the manufacture of the trailers was imported from China. 

In 2007, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued an air toxic control measure (ATCM) to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.  In 2008, environmental groups petitioned the Bush EPA to follow CARB’s example.  The EPA declined, saying it did not have the needed authority under TSCA and more research on the problem was needed.  The new legislation made the issue nondiscretionary for the EPA.

In most ways, the two EPA proposals mirror CARB’s regulation.  According to the Agency, finalization of the national regulations will result in a level economic playing field for the many thousands of companies nationwide that manufacture, import, sell, and use composite wood products.

Formaldehyde I

The first proposal sets limits on how much formaldehyde may be released from composite wood products, including hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and finished goods containing these products, that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported in the United States.  It includes exemptions from some testing and recordkeeping requirements for products made with no-added-formaldehyde resins. Additional implementing provisions for laminated products address testing, product labeling, chain of custody documentation, and other recordkeeping requirements, enforcement, and product inventory sell-through provisions, including a product stockpiling prohibition.

Formaldehyde II

Also as required by Title VI, the EPA is proposing establishment of a third-party certification program to ensure that composite wood panel producers comply with the established emissions limits.  Under the proposed framework, third-party certifiers (TPCs) would be required to apply to EPA-recognized accreditation bodies that would verify the certifiers' ability to ensure that panel producers comply with the formaldehyde emissions standards. The TPCs would be responsible for activities such as regularly auditing composite wood panel producers, conducting and verifying formaldehyde emissions tests, and ensuring that panel producers' quality assurance/quality control procedures and testing comply with TSCA Title VI implementing regulations.

Provisions of the emissions proposal are intended to encourage businesses to expand the use of no-added-formaldehyde-based resins.  For example, businesses that use these resins may apply for a 2-year exemption from certain testing and certification requirements.

Click here for the proposed rules.  

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