Following the recent ″60 Minutes″ report on excessive levels of formaldehyde in Lumber Liquidators’ laminate flooring made in China, Weitz & Luxenberg brought suit against the company for deceiving consumers through sales of approximately 30 composite products in the U.S.
Lumber Liquidators touted the laminate flooring products as being compliant with a stringent California emissions standard for formaldehyde when it knew, or should have known, that its products were not compliant with the standard. In fact, the products contained formaldehyde at levels known to pose serious health risks to humans.
As a result, consumers across the country have installed unsafe flooring products from Lumber Liquidators in their homes without knowing the risk of adverse health effects from formaldehyde exposure on family members and friends, and, in particular, children.
The California emissions standard for formaldehyde is important because of its strictness and influence on potential national emissions standards. It also highlights the potential formaldehyde health effects to consumers who purchase flooring products across the country, due to possible exposure to excessive levels of formaldehyde commonly contained in those products.
Violation of Formaldehyde Standard
Formaldehyde is produced on a large scale worldwide, including commonly through manufacturing processes. One major use includes the production of wood binding adhesives and resins.
Years ago, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) evaluated formaldehyde exposure in California and found that one of the major sources is from inhalation of formaldehyde emitted from composite wood products containing urea-formaldehyde resins. In 1992, formaldehyde was designated as a toxic air contaminant (TAC) in California with no safe level of exposure. State law required CARB to take action to reduce human exposure to all TACs.
Significantly, in 2004, the federal International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified formaldehyde from ″probably carcinogenic to humans″ to ″carcinogenic to humans,″ based on the increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.
In 2007, CARB adopted the Composite Wood Products Regulation in an attempt to reduce public exposure to formaldehyde through the establishment of strict emission performance standards on particleboard, medium density fiberboard and hardwood plywood (collectively known as composite wood products). The regulation established decreasing limits in two phases of emissions standards: an initial Phase I, and a later, more stringent Phase 2 that requires all finished goods (such as flooring) destined for sale or use in California to be made of complying composite wood products. CAL. CODE REGS., tit. 17, § 93120.2(a). The first emission standards were implemented on January 1, 2009. As of January 2014, only Phase 2 products are legal for sale in California.
The CARB Phase 2 emission standard for medium-density fiberboard (MDF) requires that MDF flooring products such as those sold by Lumber Liquidators must emit no more than 0.11 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde. The CARB Phase 2 emission standard for thin MDF requires that flooring products such as those sold by Lumber Liquidators must emit no more than 0.13 ppm of formaldehyde. CAL. CODE REGS., tit. 17, § 93120.2(a).
Certification Under the Composite Wood Products Regulation
Under California’s Composite Wood Products Regulation, any composite wood products contained in flooring products are required to be certified as complying with California’s formaldehyde emissions standard.
According to CAL. CODE REGS., tit. 17, § 93120.3, the companies that make flooring are required to:
- Label their flooring or boxes of flooring as having been made with certified compliant composite wood products.
- Keep records to verify that they have purchased compliant products.
- Inform distributors and retailers that their flooring is compliant with California’s CARB Phase 2 requirements.
The Composite Wood Products Regulation establishes an emissions standard at levels intended to protect public health. However, some flooring products may have been falsely labeled. This is precisely what has happened with laminate flooring manufactured in China and sold in the U.S. by Lumber Liquidators.
Lumber Liquidators falsely labeled these flooring products as compliant with CARB Phase 2 for formaldehyde when the levels of formaldehyde contained in the products actually exceeded the levels required under the Composite Wood Products Regulation. This practice has deceived purchasers adding concern over formaldehyde health effects and risk in the public.
Future National Emissions Standards for Formaldehyde
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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering.
Congress tasked the EPA with developing regulations to implement the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. In 2013, the EPA proposed rules to implement national formaldehyde emissions standards for a range of composite wood products. These proposed regulations also contain testing and third-party certification requirements for hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard, as well as recordkeeping and labeling requirements.
The EPA anticipates finalizing these rules in late 2015. Unfortunately, until the rules are finalized, no national emissions standards exist for formaldehyde in composite wood products. For now, they have posted some answers to Questions on Formaldehyde.
W&L Files Lawsuits Against Lumber Liquidators
In the spring of 2015, Weitz & Luxenberg filed class action lawsuits against Lumber Liquidators in federal courts in Manhattan and San Francisco on behalf of a nationwide class. The lawsuits were filed for violations of consumer protection statutes, breach of warranty and fraudulent concealment. Plaintiffs in those actions seek damages for the costs of the flooring materials and installation, as well as costs to remove the unlawful laminate flooring.
If you purchased laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators, you may be entitled to recover damages. Please contact us today for a free consultation either online or by phone at 844-400-4357.