In a story that gained national attention last week, it was revealed that certain low-cost Chinese-made laminate flooring products sold by Lumber Liquidators contain a high volume of formaldehyde. CBS’ 60 Minutes did an investigation and found that the product “may fail to meet health and safety standards, because it contains high levels of formaldehyde, a known cancer causing chemical.”
The story goes on to say, “Lumber Liquidators insists its Chinese-made laminate flooring is safe, but it doesn’t appear that way based on what we learned from our own reporting and from the work of people like Denny Larson, … who is executive director of a nonprofit group called Global Community Monitor, [and who] teamed up with Richard Drury, a prominent environmental attorney, to test Lumber Liquidators Chinese-made laminate flooring.”
Larson’s group is calling for Lumber Liquidators to replace all the flooring provided across the United States. They have sued the store in a class-action suit, accusing them of violation of the California standards for formaldehyde in building materials. High levels of formaldehyde can lead to respiratory issues, asthma, and cancer.
Building materials that contain some level of formaldehyde are allowable. Formaldehyde is used in many of the binders and glues that hold wood products together. It becomes an issue when these chemicals are released into the air over time. Samples tested by 60 Minutes were at over 13 times the allowable limit per California standards.
What are the alternatives for homeowners looking to avoid such chemicals in the products they use in their home? Many manufacturers are providing materials made with lower levels of these toxins (often called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds). Look for products such as paint and glue that are labeled “low-VOC.” Of course, “no-VOC” is even better.
Cali Bamboo came out with a statement saying that their bamboo flooring has ultra-low-VOC levels, and some are formaldehyde free. They rely on standardized testing procedures to ensure that the results are consistent.
“With the recent concerns about formaldehyde emissions coming from low-cost laminate flooring, we are happy to offer a safe, ultra-low VOC alternative that also happens to be eco-friendly,” said Jeff Goldberg, founder and CEO of Cali Bamboo. “It is rewarding to know that our customers can have the peace of mind that only comes with a quality product free from harmful additives.”
Many of Cali Bamboo’s floors are registered with formaldehyde levels that are “Not Detectable,” or less than 0.000 parts per million. Even the floors with detectable levels measured 50 times lower than the strictest California Air Resources Board (CARB) Phase 2 standards (0.05 PPM). Test results show that all Cali Bamboo flooring formaldehyde levels were at least half the amount found in typical metropolitan air (0.02 PPM).
Reports like these bring to light the necessity of research before buying any material that will go inside a home. Products that are cheaper may also be more dangerous to the health of the occupants. However, we also have to caution against “greenwashing,” the practice of claiming green benefits that aren’t properly documented or are at lower levels than claimed. As always, buyer beware!