Calif. Air Resources Board to Enact Toughest Product Standard for Formaldehyde Emissions

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorSacramento, Calif.–On January 1, 2009, California will begin observing the strictest formaldehyde emission standards for composite wood products. At that time, an independent testing company must certify all composite wood panel products made for sale or use in California.The California Air Resources Board (CARB) rule covers particleboard, medium-density fiberboard and hardwood plywood, as well as all products made from these materials. CARB has created a timeline for the implementation of the Air Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) for formaldehyde emissions. The initial phase, which will go into effect on January 1, 2009, establishes the first tier of emission limits at 0.18 ppm (parts per million), explains Tom Julia, president of the Composite Panel Association (CPA), the first third-party certifier to be approved by CARB. Phase II, which will take effect on January 1, 2011, will limit the number of formaldehyde emissions even further, to .09 ppm.“The overall goal is to reduce the formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that are used in California,” says Julia, adding that, as is often the case, California may prove to be an example for other states. “Some states have begun looking at the California regulation for possible adoption in their own jurisdictions, and the EPA has been asked to take a look at the feasibility of nationalizing the California rule as a standard.”Julia, however, explains that the CARB rule will inadvertently affect other states, whether or not they decide to adopt similar guidelines. Because of the difficulty in segregating products only for California and the desire of manufacturers to embrace the market, most composite wood panels produced domestically would have to be certified, regardless of which state produces them. Multifamily property owners will have to ensure that the materials used on site are compliant, and “Installers will have to specify [CARB-compliant] products. That’s where it’s going to be on the shoulders of builders that are putting those units into California,” Julia tells MHN. “CARB will have enforcement officials out in the field, pulling products, visiting retail sites and construction sites, and randomly testing materials.”Though the rule goes into effect in January, CARB has implemented a sell-through period, where panel manufacturers have three months, distributors have five months, retailers have 12 months and fabricators and distributors, importers and retailers of finished goods have 18 months to get rid of non-compliant inventory. This period is effective for both phases.There are currently 10 companies worldwide that have been approved by CARB as authorized third-party certifiers, and 50 producers have been certified as CARB-compliant.“The regulation requires customers to take reasonable precautions, which at the minimum, require that they specify and have an agreement with, the suppliers that will use compliant products,” Julia says. “CARB recommends that they verify additional testing and screening through their suppliers and make sure the products they receive are compliant.”