Dr. Rajiv R Sahay, CIAQP, FIAS, Laboratory Director

Washington, DC — Formaldehyde is a colorless gas, flammable and highly reactive at room temperature. Review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Draft IRIS Assessment of Formaldehyde (2011) advises that formaldehyde is a common environmental chemical that is found in ambient and indoor air. It states in the Indoor Air Testreview that indoor air typically has a higher formaldehyde concentration than ambient air (ATSDR 1999; IARC 2006; EPA 2010), the major source of emission includes building materials, consumer products, besides other sources or activities.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a ruling to protect the public from exposure to formaldehyde. The agency has implemented a congressionally enacted formaldehyde emission standards in an important press release under the chemical safety and pollution prevention (OCSPP).

The EPA works with California Air Resources Board to reduce exposure to formaldehyde vapors from certain wood products produced domestically or imported to the United States. The Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directed the EPA to finalize a rule on implementing and enforcing a number of provisions covering composite wood products.

As a result, all composite wood products that are sold, offered, manufactured, or imported in the United States need to be labeled as TSCA Title VI compliant. The EPA issued a final rule to implement the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, which added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The purpose of TSCA Title VI is to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products, which will reduce exposure to formaldehyde and result in the benefits of avoided adverse health effects.

The new ruling states that composite wood product producers must comply with emission standards as mentioned below:

  • Hardwood plywood (made with a veneer core or a composite core) = 0.05 ppm
  • Particleboard = 0.09 ppm
  • MDF = 0.11 ppm
  • Thin MDF = 0.13 ppm

These products must be certified by an EPA TSCA Title VI TPC unless they are eligible for a limited exemption for products made with NAF-based or ULEF resins. Panels must be labeled with the producer’s name (or other identification), lot number, TPC number, and a statement of compliance with TSCA Title VI.

This ruling also requires records, including testing, production, purchaser, transporter, and non-complying lot information, must be kept for 3 years along with other provisions to keep the public safe by reducing formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products, and thereby reduce exposures to formaldehyde and avoid adverse health effects in our places of work, school, or residence.

Emission vs. Inhalation

The EPA ruling as described above specifically lists the threshold and other conditions for formaldehyde emission limits from composite wood products. However, it should not be confused with the inhalation exposure guideline.  An EPA draft for toxicological inhalation, which will be reviewed by an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences, is under progress.

A final ruling on EPA’s inhalation exposure based on scientific support and rationale for the hazard and dose-response assessment pertaining to chronic inhalation exposure to formaldehyde is yet to be finalized as per EPA news release – Research (release date 06/01/2010). An indoor air guideline for formaldehyde is appropriate because indoor exposures are the dominant contributor to personal exposures through inhalation and indoor concentrations may be high enough to cause adverse health effects.

Regulatory agencies in many countries have established guideline values for concentrations of formaldehyde in indoor air. An example, World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended a concentration of 0.1 mg/m(0.081 ppm) formaldehyde as a guideline for preventing sensory irritation and long term health effects in the general population. Other guidelines vary.

To test for baseline conditions of formaldehyde in indoor air a DIY Formaldehyde Screen Check is available from www.IndoorAirTest.com.

For additional information on laboratory services call EDLab at Pure Air Control Services 1-800-422-7873 ext 303 and ask for Dr Rajiv Sahay.

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