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From Home Furnishing Business

AHFA Seeks Information on Overseas Labs Certified by CARB

The American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) has filed a California Public Records Act Request to obtain information on overseas labs certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Last month, “60 Minutes” aired an investigative report that accused Virginia-based flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators of selling laminate flooring from China containing formaldehyde levels in excess of CARB limits. The investigation included undercover video at three mills in China that supply the company. 

In the videos, mill employees admit to falsely labeling the laminate flooring as CARB 2-compliant to save on production costs.

“The industry has been relying on CARB to certify overseas labs and to notify industry if problems arise. It appears that may not be happening,” said Andy Counts, AHFA CEO. In its request under the California Public Records Act, AHFA requests all information CARB has collected from Third Party Certifiers, including any identified compliance issues. AHFA maintains these documents are critical “for reducing potential brand harm due to non-compliance.”

The “60 Minutes” segment set off a media and political frenzy – as well as a freefall in Lumber Liquidators’ stock price.  The most recent stock decline came when Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to initiate its own investigation of Lumber Liquidators’ flooring to determine whether it is dangerous to consumers.

CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye said the agency has launched an investigation, but the chairman was careful to point out that the CPSC would not use the deconstructive testing ordered by “60 Minutes.” Instead, the agency will use a more widely accepted ASTM small scale chamber method to test intact product samples for formaldehyde emission levels.

Deconstructive testing of laminated wood products to determine formaldehyde emissions is an unreliable test method discounted by extensive industry research. The process includes sanding off the board’s laminate top before measuring formaldehyde emissions. Using this test method, the labs contracted by “60 Minutes” were able to produce results showing emissions up to 20 times higher than “legal limits” – although “60 Minutes” never disclosed to what standard the labs were testing.

“As demonstrated by AHFA and other industry stakeholders, testing deconstructed laminated products is imprecise, subjective and unreliable. Because the procedure is so imprecise, it is difficult to achieve repeatable results,” Counts said. “The variability embedded in this test method produces so much uncertainty in the emissions data that CARB developed a significant ‘range of variability’ for use in interpreting test results.”

CARB’s Air Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) does not require deconstructive testing by manufacturers, importers, fabricators or retailers of finished goods that are produced using certified composite wood component parts purchased from third-party-certified board manufacturers. 

AHFA has met with CARB officials several times in California since the “60 Minutes” broadcast and continues urging the agency to rely on labeling and established chain of custody requirements when investigating non-compliant products. 

“CARB has publicly stated that the deconstructive test introduces variability to the test procedure,” Counts said. “Although it has been used as a screening tool for identifying potentially noncompliant products, it should not be used as an enforcement tool.”

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