White House issues regulatory freeze on EPA formaldehyde regulation
January 25, 2017 | 5:32 pm CST
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WASHINGTON -- President Trump issued an Executive Order over the weekend that freezes all recently published EPA regulations for a 60-day review period. This review period delays the initial effective date for the EPA formaldehyde rule, pushing it from February 10 to March 21, 2017, according to the Composite Panel Association. 

This change in effective date will only impact the deadline for accrediting bodies and third-party certifiers to register with the EPA. The December 12, 2017 implementation date for all panel producers and fabricators to comply with the regulation’s emissions and other requirements remains unchanged. 


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Since the formaldehyde rule was published in the Federal Register, it cannot be changed without further action by the Congress through the Congressional Review Act, which is highly unlikely, or through rulemaking by the EPA.  At this point, there is no clear indication that EPA will open the docket for further comment or initiate a rulemaking to make changes to the existing regulation. 

CPA will continue its advocacy efforts with EPA during this implementation delay to seek changes to the final regulation that address a handful of editorial and/or substantive issues, such as the restriction on labeling TSCA Title VI compliance until December 12, 2017.

See http://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/news/woodworking-industry-news/what-woodworkers-need-know-about-epa-formaldehyde-regulation for additional information from CPA.

The federal regulation that definitively addresses formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products sold in the United States was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 12, 2016, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  If properly enforced, the regulation can ensure that all products – both domestic and imported composite wood panels and the finished products containing them – meet the world’s most stringent standards for formaldehyde emissions.  It also marks the culmination of over 30 years of product stewardship by the composite wood industry, which through voluntary efforts and consistent and progressive work with regulators, has successfully developed products that consistently meet or exceed these tough standards.


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The North American industry, through its trade association the Composite Panel Association (CPA), developed voluntary standards for formaldehyde emissions limits over 30 years ago.  Since that time, the industry has partnered with resin manufacturers to develop formaldehyde-based resin technologies that now emit formaldehyde levels at or near the levels that occur naturally from wood itself. 

The CPA worked closely with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in developing and implementing its 2008 formaldehyde emissions regulation, and has since taken the lead in voluntarily complying with these regulations for all production, whether destined for sale in California or elsewhere.  The stewardship of the domestic industry has been repeatedly recognized, most recently in the 60 Minutes exposé on Lumber Liquidators Chinese-made laminate flooring — where all of the U.S.-made flooring tested by CBS did not exceed CARB emission levels. 

Recognizing the need for a level regulatory playing field for all states, not just in California, the CPA took the lead in forming a coalition of NGO, labor union and industry stakeholders to work with Congress to enact legislation that would implement the California emissions standards nationally.  In July 2010, the bipartisan “Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act,” which became Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), was enacted.  The law established on a national basis the formaldehyde emission limits from the CARB regulation, and directed EPA to promulgate implementing regulations as close as possible to the California provisions. 

Finally, despite significant delay, EPA issued a pre-publication version of these regulations on July 27, with the final regulation published in the Federal Register on Dec. 12, 2016.

Regulation scope and timing

As required in the legislation, EPA’s regulation is largely consistent with CARB.  The scope of covered products includes hardwood plywood, particleboard and MDF.  Hardboard remains exempt, although EPA has limited the exemption to boards with emissions that do not exceed 0.06 ppm.  What is also new, and what was most controversial during the comment phase of the regulation, is the inclusion of a narrow goup of veneered products, or what the EPA refers to as “laminated products.”  These are defined as composite wood panels with an attached wood or woody grass veneer (i.e.. bamboo) that are then used in the production of a component part or finished good.  The scope of "laminated products" DOES NOT include other veneer types, papers or other surface finishes commonly used with composite wood.  Products made with these finishes are, however, considered to be “finished goods” and must use “compliant” composite wood substrates.     

Requirements for panel producers

The federal regulation applies the same CARB emission limits for hardwood plywood (0.05 ppm), MDF (0.11 ppm), thin MDF (0.13 ppm) and particleboard (0.09 ppm).  The regulation also puts in place a rigorous third-party certification system.  Current CARB certifying bodies will automatically be recognized as certifiers for the national program for two years.   Panel manufacturers that use ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) and no-added formaldehyde (NAF) resins are still eligible for reduced testing and exemption from third-party certification.  The regulation implements the same CARB testing methodologies, and includes methods for recognition of equivalency and correlation of test methods.  Panel producers will also find that the EPA regulation calls for similar labeling, reporting and record-keeping requirements.    

There are also several notable provisions that are new or that differ somewhat from the CARB approach that will be important for panel producers.  The regulation establishes a new process for managing non-complying lots, including a requirement that panel manufacturers provide notice to customers within 72 hours of learning of non-compliance. The regulation calls for labeling of panels as “TSCA Title VI Compliant,” and also calls for development of a system to track panels once they are separated from their bundle. Compliance records must also be kept for three years, as opposed to two under CARB.

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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at karl.forth@woodworkingnetwork.com.