For at least two years, Lumber Liquidators has been selling approximately 30 composite laminate flooring products in the U.S. it has manufactured in China, knowing that they emit formaldehyde at levels known to pose serious health risks. However, it has continued to falsely label and market these products as being compliant with emissions limits set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) — which Lumber Liquidators correctly touts as being among the most strict emissions regulations in the nation. As a result, consumers throughout the country have been buying and installing in their homes flooring products from Lumber Liquidators unaware that they are unsafe.
Laminate Flooring and Formaldehyde Exposure
Laminate wood flooring is generally composed of a base layer of pressed composite wood (particle board or medium-density fiberboard), which is a mixture of sawdust or wood particles bonded together with glue or resin. The base layer is covered with a veneer or other material, such as a plastic laminate with a photographic image of wood that is affixed as a decorative surface. Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in the glue used in the laminate flooring base layer. If used in low levels, the formaldehyde quickly dissipates during installation. However, if used in higher levels, the formaldehyde is released as a gas that emanates from the flooring over time.
Long-term exposure to formaldehyde is linked to increased risk of cancer of the nose and sinuses; nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal cancer; lung cancer and leukemia. Formaldehyde also causes burning eyes, nose and throat irritation, coughing, headaches, dizziness, joint pain and nausea. It has been linked also to the exacerbation of asthma in formaldehyde-sensitive individuals and poses a particular acute risk to children.
The emissions limits set by CARB are among the most comprehensive and exacting in the country. In fact, these standards have served as a model for national standards that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering. In 1988, the State of California officially listed formaldehyde (gas) as a chemical known to cause cancer. The CARB approved the Airborne Toxic Control Measure to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products in April 2007. The formaldehyde emission standards became effective in January 2009 and set decreasing limits in two phases. CAL. CODE REGS., tit. 17, § 93120.2(a). The CARB regulations apply to composite wood (“laminate”) products, including flooring. CAL CODE REGS., tit. 17, § 93120.2(a).
The CARB Phase 2 Emission Standard for medium-density fiberboard (“MDF”) dictates that, as of January 1, 2011, MDF flooring products such as those involved here must emit no more than 0.11 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde. The CARB Phase 2 Emission Standard for Thin MDF dictates that as of January 1, 2012, thin MDF flooring products such as those involved here must emit no more than 0.13 ppm of formaldehyde. CAL. CODE REGS., tit. 17, § 93120.2(a).
Lab Testing for Formaldehyde
From October 2013 through November 2014, three accredited laboratories tested the formaldehyde emissions of laminate wood flooring from several nationwide retail outlets, including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators. Of the dozens of products tested, by far the highest formaldehyde levels were found in the laminate wood flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators that was produced in China. The levels of formaldehyde gas emitted by these Chinese-made Lumber Liquidators products were several times the maximum CARB limits and exceeded the standards promulgated in the Toxic Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. (Title VI – Formaldehyde Standards of Composite Wood Products). In contrast, similar products manufactured by Lumber Liquidators in the U.S. generally had much lower formaldehyde levels that complied with the formaldehyde emission standards promulgated by CARB.
Despite this discrepancy, Lumber Liquidators did not differentiate between its domestically manufactured floor laminates and those made in China. Indeed, Lumber Liquidators’ labels on its Chinese-made laminate wood flooring products indicate that the products comply with strict formaldehyde emission standards promulgated by CARB by stating “California 93120 Phase 2 Compliant Formaldehyde.” This simply is not the case.
“60 Minutes” Report on Lumber Liquidators Laminate Flooring
In 2014 and early 2015, “60 Minutes” conducted an independent investigation into Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese-made flooring products. Investigators purchased 31 boxes of various Chinese-made flooring products from various Lumber Liquidators stores around the country and sent the samples for testing at two certified labs. Of the 31 samples, only one was compliant with CARB formaldehyde emissions standards. Some were more than 13 times greater than the California limit.
“60 Minutes” also sent undercover investigators to three different mills in China that manufacture laminates and other flooring on behalf of Lumber Liquidators. “60 Minutes” reported that employees at the mills openly admitted that they use core boards with higher levels of formaldehyde to make Lumber Liquidators laminates, saving the company 10 to 15 percent on the price. They also admitted to falsely labeling the company’s laminate flooring as CARB-compliant.
Lumber Liquidators has not warned or disclosed to consumers any information about the unlawful formaldehyde levels in its laminate wood flooring products. Instead, along with its product labels, it represents on its website and in its warranties that its flooring products comply with strict formaldehyde standards. Indeed, in early March, Lumber Liquidators’ website falsely stated, “we not only comply with laws — we exceed them.”
W&L Files Lumber Liquidators Lawsuit
Lumber Liquidators has violated state and federal law by deceiving consumers and putting them at risk of adverse health effects. Consequently, on March 25, 2015, Weitz & Luxenberg filed a class action Lumber Liquidators lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on behalf of six aggrieved consumers from three states. On April 6, we followed with another lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco, California. These actions assert claims on behalf of a nationwide class against Lumber Liquidators for violations of consumer protection statutes, breach of warranty and fraudulent concealment under state laws. Plaintiffs seek damages for the costs of the flooring materials and installation, as well as costs to remove and replace the unlawful laminate flooring. Class actions are ideally suited for consumer fraud claims such as these because they give individuals access to the courts for claims that may not otherwise be suitable for prosecuting on an individual basis.
Moreover, federal regulators are now scrutinizing Lumber Liquidators. On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that it is investigating Lumber Liquidators and testing its flooring products dating back to 2012. The probe’s results probably will be released in the coming months.
If you purchased laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators, you may be entitled to recover damages. Please contact us today for a free consultation: