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AHFA: Times Report Misrepresented Formaldehyde Stance

The American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) disputes its characterization in the May 4 edition of the New York Times as an organization opposed to a federal formaldehyde standard.

For more than a decade, AHFA and its member companies have supported and been actively involved in the development of formaldehyde emission standards in the United States.  

“We supported California’s adoption of the most stringent formaldehyde emission standard in the world, and we have worked closely with EPA officials to help achieve a strong and enforceable federal regulation,” said AHFA CEO Andy Counts.

The Times reported that opposition from the home furnishings industry delayed and hampered the federal government’s attempt to “control substances known to be harmful to human health.”

“AHFA has consistently worked to help achieve an effective regulatory framework that would provide our industry with reliable mechanisms for demonstrating compliance with emission standards across a vast, global supply chain,” Counts said. “We provided EPA officials with a technical perspective that helped frame the legislative language in the federal standard – including the requirement for the EPA to develop implementing rules for its standard. The Times characterization of an industry at odds with regulators couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

The AHFA also said the Times report omitted the impact of the 2008 formaldehyde regulation adopted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The regulation phased in restrictions on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products and, when the final limits were fully in place by 2012. 

Counts said AHFA’s involvement in the federal formaldehyde regulation has not focused at all on emission limits – which have already been adopted and mirror the CARB standard. Instead, AHFA has focused on proposed improvements that would ensure the accuracy and reliability of the test methods within the enforcement framework and would strengthen accountability within the third-party certification system to ensure non-compliant products do not make their way into the supply chain for furniture manufacturers.

“The Times article missed its mark by about a decade,” Counts said. “The potential health impacts of formaldehyde were debated 10 years ago. Where we are today is trying to figure out how to achieve accountability and reliability throughout a complex global supply chain.”

AHFA and its member companies have opposed one aspect of the proposed EPA enforcement scheme – the testing of laminated wood products – based on the fact that such testing will provide no benefit to human health or the environment.

“Research conducted by world-class air quality laboratories demonstrates that finished home furnishings products have a reduced emission profile from that of a composite panel,” Counts said. “In fact, laminating composite wood panels reduces the level of formaldehyde emissions in the finished furniture product by at least 80 percent – making additional testing at the finished product level unwarranted.”

CARB took this research into consideration in its decision to exempt laminated products from the testing and certification requirements of raw composite wood products.  

The Times article said the EPA has conducted research that concludes laminated products pose “a particular risk” to consumers. When wood products are laminated “in the final stages of manufacturing,” the article said, “the resulting product can generate dangerous levels of fumes from often-used formaldehyde-based glues.”

Available research counters this statement, Counts said. “UL (Underwriters Laboratories) conducted the research which was made available to and discussed with the Times. The positive impact of laminating on emissions also has been verified and published by agencies such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

“In fact, the CPSC’s ‘Update on Formaldehyde’ specifically suggests purchasing furniture or cabinets that contain a high percentage of panel surface and edges that are laminated or coated as a strategy for avoiding exposure to formaldehyde,” Counts saids. “Studies clearly show that a finished piece of furniture has a significantly different emissions profile, and this difference should be considered in the regulatory framework.”

Counts notes that the EPA has the expertise, resources and ability to improve the science of formaldehyde emissions testing and to strengthen the enforcement framework. “These areas are the focus of our attention today,” he said.

 



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