“This bill will establish national standards
that will both protect public health and
ensure an even playing field between
domestic wood products and foreign
  -- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act on June 23.

The bill, which gained Senate approval earlier this month, includes many key components of the California Air Resource Board’s formaldehyde standard. It will be sent to President Obama for his signature.

The legislation had strong support from industry associations, including the Composite Panel Association (CPA), American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association (HPVA) and the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA). Supporters also included the Sierra Club.

The bill covers the emissions of formaldehyde resins used in the manufacture of particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood. These panel products are commonly used in the manufacture of cabinets, furniture, closet systems, flooring and other secondary wood products.

The bill also directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish implementation, testing and compliance provisions for the standard that can be implemented on a national level.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Senate bill along with Sen. Mike Carpo (R-ID) last September.

“High levels of formaldehyde are a health threat,” Klobuchar said. “This bill will establish national standards that will both protect public health and ensure an even playing field between domestic wood products and foreign imports.”

The International Wood Products Association (IWPA), a group whose members are dedicated to importing wood and wood products, issued a statement welcoming the legislation.

“Our members are meeting and exceeding the emission regulations already in place in the state of California. They welcome a nationwide standard to provide uniformity and predictability to the marketplace,” said Brent McClendon, executive vice president of the IWPA. McClendon added, “Our members report to us that passage of this bill effectively ends the fallacious ‘level the playing field’ argument and allows architects and designers to increasingly specify and use the imported wood products they especially favor for particular applications in housing, cabinets and furniture.”

CPA lauds 'historic legislation'
"This is a historic moment for the North American composite panel industry, which has always been at the forefront of environmental stewardship,” said Tom Julia, CPA President. “The legislation represents a responsible, bipartisan approach to advancing consumer protection, fair trade, and domestic jobs.”

Julia noted that the emission limitations called for in the legislation are modeled on a regulation adopted by California in 2008. “The result will be the toughest production standard in the world, including provisions to ensure that products made with composite wood panels meet the standard. The legislation will also encourage the development of lower emitting adhesive technologies and establish a transparent chain of custody for purposes of enforcement. Manufacturer quality assurance requirements and third-party testing and certification of panel products will give consumers the highest confidence in the composite wood products they purchase, regardless of where in the world they are manufactured.”  

About the standard
The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act would establish national emission standards under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for formaldehyde in new composite wood products (secondhand products and antiques are exempted.)

Under the proposed federal legislation, by Jan. 1, 2013, these products sold in the U.S. would have to meet a formaldehyde emission standard of about 0.09 parts per million. Collectively, these would be the toughest standards in the world.

In addition to establishing the national standards, this legislation would:

  • Require third-party testing and certification to ensure that products with formaldehyde comply with the national standards; and
  • Direct the EPA to work with Customs and Border Protection and other relevant federal agencies to enforce the standards for imported wood products.

AHFA working with EPA
AHFA Vice President Bill Perdue, said, his group and others are working with EPA staff to address some of the challenges presented in the new federal standard. AHFA members include those who manufacture residential furniture domestically, import furniture or both.

"AHFA has already begun to provide relevant input and data to the EPA, and we will continue working closely with agency staff in an effort to ensure that key industry concerns are addressed."

Chief among AHFA's challenges with the California rule, Perdue said, was establishing adequate sell-through periods for non-compliant products as the lower emission limits were phased in. This challenge was exacerbated by the economic recession which created unprecedented inventories of non-compliant products.

"Establishing adequate sell-through provisions will be even more critical with the federal rule," Perdue said. "Unlike in California, where non-compliant inventories could be moved to other markets, there is no pragmatic solution to non-compliant inventories within the national marketplace."

A second challenge with the federal formaldehyde standard will be establishing reasonable testing and compliance provisions, according to the AHFA.

"Initially, as part of its enforcement strategy, CARB proposed a finished product testing requirement. This would have required furniture manufacturers to test and meet the emission requirements for all furniture sold into California – and that would have been a very costly proposition," Perdue said.

"There is no established test protocol for finished products, and the data collected could not be benchmarked against the proposed emissions requirements, since those pertain only to individual composite wood products. "If raw board component parts are properly regulated, downstream users of these products, including home furnishings manufacturers and retailers, eventually will have only compliant products in their inventories," Perdue added.

Read American Home Furnishings Alliance's press release.

Read International Wood Product Association's press release.

Read Composite Panel Association's press release.

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