The re-testing of Wayfair's Mission cabinet. Image courtesy of AHFA/UL Environment
The re-testing of Wayfair's Mission cabinet. Image courtesy of AHFA/UL Environment

HIGH POINT – "Imprecise and unreliable" are terms being used to describe the deconstructive testing method which produced high formaldehyde emission levels in some Wayfair imported casegoods. The American Home Furnishings Alliance released test results on Jan. 4 that instead "confirm the consumer safety of home furnishings containing engineered wood and the compliance of those products with California’s formaldehyde emission standard."

The "toxicity" of composite panel products — specifically some of Wayfair's imported furniture and flooring — were called into question recently by Whitney Tilson, stock market analyst and managing partner of Kase Capital Management, who shorted the Wayfair.com (NYSE: W) stock. Tilson claimed that nine out of 10 items purchased from the e-commerce giant  and submitted to HPVA Laboratories for formaldehyde emissions testing failed to comply with CARB II regulations, including Ark Flooring and Zingz & Thingz Shabby 1 cabinet.

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Wayfair furniture, flooring fail formaldehyde emissions test

Kase Capital Management's Whitney Tilson shorted Wayfair's stock, amid claims the online furnishings retailer was selling laminate flooring and engineered wood furniture with high levels of formaldehyde.

According to AHFA, Tilson used deconstructive testing which produces a higher formaldehyde emission level. “Deconstructive testing is not a valid method for determining CARB compliance of the components within finished consumer products," said Andy Counts, CEO of AHFA. "In our many years of working with CARB staff, deconstructive testing has been used only as a screening tool to determine if further testing might be necessary. It produces widely variable results and, therefore, is considered imprecise and unreliable.”

AHFA said it purchased the same "failed" furniture and had it tested by UL Environment in Marietta, Georgia, a business unit of Underwriters Laboratory. Test results showed all four products were well under the CARB II standard, with formaldehyde emissions between 49 and 91 percent below the allowable levels.

“We believe CARB-compliant wood products are safe for consumers,” said Counts. “In order to meet California formaldehyde emission limits, manufacturers of today’s composite wood components use new glue formulations, including ultra-low-emitting- formaldehyde glues and no-added-formaldehyde glues. As a result, the wood furnishings built with these CARB-compliant components emit extremely low levels of formaldehyde.”

Counts added that "Tilson is using deconstructive testing in a way CARB never intended,” a sentiment with which former CARB Chairman John Dunlap agrees.

The re-testing of Wayfair.com furniture. Image courtesy of AHFA/UL Environment

“The whole purpose of the CARB standard is to make sure that manufacturers are using the correct materials, CARB-certified boards, in order to make safe products for consumers. The idea that one would deconstruct a finished furniture product and then test it against a raw board standard is not what was intended,” Dunlap said. "As can be seen by the UL tests on these specific products, the system works well and the products have been found to be acceptable and safe when used as intended. No third party should be deconstructing a finished piece of furniture and then suggesting that it is unsafe – that seems to be a tactic designed only to scare and manipulate consumers, or, in this case, investors."

Tilson defended the deconstruct testing method used on the finished goods. In a statement to Furniture/Today, Tilson said, "To be clear, CARB does not require testing finished products – only the medium-density fiberboard core prior to being processed into furniture – but if one tests finished product, CARB is very clear that it must first be deconstructed.”

Deconstructive testing also was one of the methods used, and disputed, in last year's exposé of Lumber Liquidators' imported laminate flooring.

AHFA offers a fact sheet on CARB's formaldehyde emissions standard and deconstructive testing. To access the PDF, click here.

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