Steps Manufacturers Should Take to Ensure Their Laminate Flooring is Free from Formaldehyde

The 60-Minutes investigation of Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring products has focused attention on possible violations of the California Air Resources Board ATCM on Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood (CARB ATCM). The investigation alleged that the Chinese suppliers of these products were using composite wood cores with high formaldehyde emissions and knowingly mislabeled boxes of laminate flooring with these cores as CARB ATCM Phase 2 compliant. There have been no official announcements by CARB of enforcement actions against Lumber Liquidators. And, there is no national regulation on formaldehyde emissions from composite woods at this time. Nevertheless, the damage to Lumber Liquidators’ market capitalization has been substantial.

These events have highlighted possible flaws in the ATCM regulation related to third party certification and enforcement. It appears that it may be very difficult to keep track of certificates by good faith chain-of-custody procedures once the core materials leave the original factories. And since both manufacturing of the cores and the finished goods are done in a foreign country, CARB has no authority to investigate and hold any of the parties accountable. Additionally, enforcement action in California can only be based on investigations of finished goods, which are not specifically addressed by the regulation and have been questioned by some parties.

This leaves manufacturers, importers, and retailers of compliant products in a difficult situation. They likely are paying a premium for compliant composite wood cores, which would put them at an economic disadvantage relative to companies that don’t comply with the regulation. And now the CARB ATCM Phase 2 labels on their products, which have been used to demonstrate compliance, have been called into question.

Manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of laminated flooring and other types of wood-based engineered floors are scrambling to provide assurances to their customers that their products are, in fact, compliant to CARB ATCM Phase 2, or at least, do not contain for emit harmful levels of formaldehyde. This need is not limited to the California market due to the now heightened awareness of consumers about formaldehyde in flooring products from China. Testing of finished goods as they enter the U.S. probably is the most efficient and reliable way to accomplish this. Many of the stake holders have conducted formaldehyde testing on some of their finished goods, but few probably have approached the problem in a systematic manner. The following are some suggestions for quality control management and testing that can be implemented by a flooring manufacturer or importer.

  1. Understand the supply chain. Identify the mills and the production lines that are manufacturing each product and determine the sizes of the production lots.
  2. Develop a WRITTEN plan to sample representative products from each mill and production line and to monitor the compliance of these products over time across production lots. If a mill/production line produces more than one product, rotate sample collection through all of the products over time.
  3. Select initial samples from current inventory. Then, select subsequent samples from container shipments as they arrive in the U.S. Document the collection of samples using written records, chain-of-custody forms (typically supplied by laboratories), and photographs.
  4. Have the samples tested for compliance of their composite wood cores to CARB ATCM Phase 2 formaldehyde emission requirements. Use an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory, with ASTM Standard Method D6007 in the scope of their accreditation. For laminate flooring products and some types of engineered hardwood flooring, the finished product will need to be deconstructed using the CARB Standard Operating Procedure for Finished Good Test Specimen Preparation (2013).
  5. Maintain a WRITTEN cumulative record of test results. Small deviations above the ATCM limits may be acceptable as the method has inherent uncertainty and the deconstruction process may introduce additional uncertainty. Also, it’s reasonable to assume that noncompliant products will be well above the regulatory limits. If any of the products are clearly nonompliant, immediately start to work with suppliers to correct the problems.
  6. Continue to collect and test representative samples from production lots over time. Terminate sampling for a mill/production line only when the test record demonstrates consistent compliance.
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