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EPA rules seeks new limit on formaldehyde in wood

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed two rules in May to help protect Americans from exposure to the harmful chemical formaldehyde, consistent with a federal law passed by Congress in 2010.

These rules ensure that composite wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States meet the formaldehyde emission standards established by Congress, according to the EPA.

Formaldehyde is used in adhesives to make a wide range of building materials and products. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, other respiratory symptoms and, in certain cases, cancer, according to the EPA.

“The proposed regulations announced today reflect EPA’s continued efforts to protect the public from exposure to harmful chemicals in their daily lives,” James J. Jones, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement. “Once final, the rules will reduce the public’s exposure to this harmful chemical found in many products in our homes and workplaces.”

In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which establishes emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directs EPA to propose rules to enforce the act’s provisions. The EPA says its proposed rules align, where practical, with the requirements for composite wood products set by the California Air Resources Board.

Most manufacturers are already following requirements for composite wood products already in place in California so that they are able to sell in any state. The EPA says its proposals will provide one national standard, thus preventing a patchwork of different state requirements and providing a level playing field between states and between American companies and importers. The EPA estimates that formaldehyde concentrations in new and renovated homes will be reduced by 9 to 25 percent when the rules are final. The EPA also anticipates that the proposed rules will encourage the ongoing trend by industry towards switching to no-added-formaldehyde resins in products.

The EPA’s first proposal limits how much formaldehyde can be emitted from hardwood plywood, MDF, particleboard and finished goods that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported in the U.S. The emitted formaldehyde can be left over from the resin or composite wood-making process or be released when the resin degrades in the presence of heat and humidity. This proposal also includes testing requirements, laminated product provisions, product labeling requirements, chain of custody documentation, record-keeping, a stockpiling prohibition and enforcement provisions. It also includes a common-sense exemption from some testing and record-keeping requirements for products made with no-added-formaldehyde resins.

The second proposal establishes a third-party certification framework designed to ensure that manufacturers of composite wood products meet the Toxic Substances Control Act’s formaldehyde emission standards by having their composite wood products certified though an accredited third-party certifier. It would also establish eligibility requirements and responsibilities for third-party certifiers and the EPA-recognized accreditation bodies who would accredit them. The EPA says the proposed third-party certification program will level the playing field by ensuring composite wood products sold in this country meet the emission standards in the rule regardless of whether they were made in the U.S. or not.

The proposed rules were published in the Federal Register, paving the way for comments by the woodworking industry and other interested parties. The 60-day comment period ends Aug. 9. To comment, visit

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.

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