News Analysis

California Limits Allowable Formaldehyde in Wood Panels

June 7, 2007

Formaldehyde was reclassified by the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) in 2004 from “probable human carcinogen” to “known human carcinogen,” elevating the level of public concern. In 1985 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set a maximum allowable concentration of 0.3 parts per million, when tested according to ASTM E-1333-96, for products used in manufactured homes. CARB estimates that, at that level, cancer risks from formaldehyde remain unacceptably high: 23–62 childhood cancer cases per million children, and 86–231 lifetime cancer cases per million.

The new CARB rule sets thresholds for emissions of formaldehyde from various panel products that take effect in two phases between 2009 and 2012 (see chart). It is difficult to compare these limits with their counterparts in Europe and Japan due to the differences in testing protocols. The phase-one targets are designed to establish a reasonable baseline based on today’s common practice, while curtailing low-cost, high-emitting, imported products. Phase two, on the other hand, is intended to force manufacturers to shift to advanced and emerging technologies. CARB officials tout the fact that, once fully implemented, its formaldehyde emission limits will be the tightest in the world. Products sold for use in manufactured homes are exempted from these new requirements because state law cannot supersede federal rules in this area.