|REDUCING FORMALDEHYDE EMISSIONS FROM
Composite Wood Products
What are composite wood products?
“Composite wood products” are panels made from pieces, chips,
particles, or fibers of wood bonded together with a resin. The
California Composite Wood Products Regulation (CWP Regulation)
specifically focuses on three products: hardwood plywood (HWPW),
particleboard (PB), and medium density fiberboard (MDF). The
regulation also applies to composite wood products used in finished
goods such as cabinets, doors, furniture, flooring products,
moldings, toys, mirror and photo frames, audio speakers, base
boards, shelving, and countertops. The regulation requires finished
goods to be made with HWPW, PB, and MDF that comply with the
regulatory requirements and to be labeled as such. If you purchase
panels or finished goods, you will likely encounter a label on the
product(s) that includes phrases such as “California 93120
Compliant for Formaldehyde” or “California Phase 2 Compliant.”
Seeing “formaldehyde,” an identified toxic air contaminant, on
labels may raise concerns about whether a given product is safe to
use or not. Below, we provide answers to commonly asked questions
about composite wood products.
What does “California 93120
Compliant for Formaldehyde” or “California Phase 2 Compliant”
mean and why is this label showing up on more products?
The label seen on panels and finished
goods indicates that the product meets the California Air Resources
Board’s (CARB) stringent emission standards for formaldehyde
emissions from composite wood products, including HWPW, PB, and MDF.
The CWP Regulation took effect in 2009, and manufacturers and
fabricators of finished goods that use any of these materials are
required to use composite wood that meets the formaldehyde emission
limits in the CWP Regulation. They are also required to label their
products as complying, either on the products or the packaging for
the finished goods. Manufacturers typically will label their
products as “California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde” or
“California Phase 2 Compliant,” although other variations may also
be used. California’s CWP Regulation is one of the most stringent
regulations in effect to limit formaldehyde emissions from composite
wood products. As of today, the CWP Regulation is only being
implemented in California; other states have not adopted similar
regulations. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is
developing a national regulation based on California’s regulation,
which is expected to be in effect nationwide by 2014.
What is formaldehyde and what are
the health effects of formaldehyde exposure?
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas and
is released to the environment from a variety of sources including
the combustion of fossil fuels such as gasoline and propane, tobacco
smoke, fireplaces, and wood burning stoves. It is also found at low
levels in natural wood. It is commonly used to make a variety of
products including resins that are used as adhesives in composite
wood products. It is also found in many other products, including
some furniture coatings, permanent press clothing and linens,
wallpaper, carpet products, and personal care products such as nail
hardeners. Health effects
can include nose and throat irritation, a burning sensation of the
eyes, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and can trigger asthma
symptoms in those with asthma. Sensitive individuals may experience
fatigue, headache, and nausea. Formaldehyde is also a known human
Are labeled products safe for my
family or should I return/discard the product?
From a public health standpoint, the
CWP Regulation’s emission standards are set at low levels intended
to protect public health. The first emission standards (Phase 1)
went into effect in 2009. The more stringent Phase 2 standards are
now in effect for all composite wood panels and finished goods sold
in California. Prior to the CWP Regulation, formaldehyde emissions
were often ten to twenty-fold higher than the current allowable
The finished product I purchased
emits a strong, unpleasant odor. Is that odor from the formaldehyde?
While many composite wood
materials used in finished goods are made with urea
formaldehyde-based resins, other chemicals in varnishes, decorative
finishes, paint, etc., used in the assembly of such products may
also contribute to the odor. So just because a product smells, it
doesn’t mean that it is off-gassing formaldehyde. For products that
are made with formaldehyde based resins or adhesives, rapid
off-gassing of formaldehyde occurs initially when the product is
made, and over time the formaldehyde emissions decrease.
What can I do to alleviate the
obnoxious smell and emissions in my home?
Proper ventilation, such as
opening up windows, bringing fresh air through a central ventilation
system, and running exhaust fans, will expedite formaldehyde
off-gassing from finished goods in your home as well as the
odors from any finishes such as varnish or lacquer. You may also
leave your new product(s) in the garage for a few days to let it
off-gas before bringing it inside. An increase in temperature
and humidity can increase formaldehyde emissions. Keeping the
temperature and humidity low, such as by using an air conditioner in
hot summer months and using a dehumidifier to draw the moisture out
of the air when humid, may help decrease the amount of formaldehyde
that off-gasses into the indoor air.
Are there finished products with
no formaldehyde emissions?
The CWP Regulation includes
provisions for no-added formaldehyde (NAF) and ultra-low emitting
formaldehyde-based resins (ULEF), to encourage the use of these
lower-emitting resins in composite wood products. However, it is
difficult to know if a product is made with these materials unless a
manufacturer or fabricator promotes their product as such or
specifies it on their product or label. Under the CWP Regulation, a
manufacturer or fabricator of NAF/ULEF products may elect to simply
label their product as Phase 2 compliant, even though their product
emits less formaldehyde than the Phase 2 levels.
The product I purchased in
California is not labeled. Is it safe to assume that it is compliant
for the CWP Regulation?
All finished products (panels and
finished goods) sold or supplied to California are required to be
compliant. Due to a transitional period, which allows businesses to
sell noncompliant inventories for a specified amount of time, there
may be some products still on the market that only meet Phase 1
emission standards. Retailers (such as big box stores, small
retailers) are allowed to sell Phase 1 compliant products until
December 31, 2013. While many retailers sell/supply Phase 2
compliant products, legally they can also sell Phase 1 compliant
products from their existing inventory through December 31, 2013.
Also, if you do not see a label on the product, it does not
necessarily mean that it is not a compliant product. The CWP
Regulation requires that fabricators either label the finished goods
or the boxes the products are shipped in. If you are unsure whether
the product you purchased is compliant, you may ask your retailer
Where can I get more information?
For more information please visit
CARB’s Composite Wood Products website at: http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm.
You may also call or email any of the following staff: Lynn Baker,
firstname.lastname@example.org, (916) 324-6997, Angela Csondes, email@example.com,
(916) 445-4448, or Layla Gonzalez, firstname.lastname@example.org, (916)
324-0354. If you need this document in an alternate format (i.e.
Braille, large print) or another language, please contact Layla
Gonzalez at (916) 324-0354 or email@example.com. TTY/TDD/Speech to
Speech users may dial 711 for the California Relay Service.