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Panel producers support national formaldehyde rule

Effectiveness will depend on enforcement

Heath E. Combs, January 14, 2009

DURHAM, N.C. — Representatives from several composite panel producers spoke last week here in support of a national rule adopting the California Air Resources Board's formaldehyde standards for the entire United States.

The Durham meetings were held as part of a proposed rulemaking process that started last year, when the Sierra Club and others unsuccessfully requested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopt the CARB rule as a national standard.

Starting July 1, 2010, furniture retailers and manufacturers selling in California will be required to produce and sell only products that are CARB-compliant.

The CARB rules, which strictly limit the amount of formaldehyde that may be emitted from composites like plywood or MDF, are taking effect in stages starting this month.

For all products made for sale in California that contain composite wood panels - including furniture - panel manufacturers will have to obtain third-party certification from a laboratory saying their facilities produce board that complies with the regulations to limit formaldehyde emissions.

California adopted the rules to limit public exposure to formaldehyde which, according to state regulators, has carcinogenic properties.

Several people at the Durham meeting said that if the rule was adopted, it would be effective only if strictly enforced.

Others stated objections to listing formaldehyde as a substance with an unreasonable risk to health or injury to the environment. If it were classified that way, the EPA is required to regulate it under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The EPA does not currently have a national standard for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. Officials with the EPA were unavailable for comment at press time.

Dave Leding, a plant manager for panel producer Flakeboard and board chairman of the Composite Panel Assn., said his company stands "100 percent behind this regulation as a matter of good public policy that will finally put to rest the issue of formaldehyde regulation."

Leding said the company had invested about $10 million into complying with the new CARB formaldehyde standards.

He objected to formaldehyde being listed as a substance with unreasonable risk.

"A finding that classifies our products along the lines of asbestos or other very harmful products is simply wrong and casts a black shadow over a product that is one of the greenest in the world," he said, referring to its ability to sequester carbon that would otherwise be discarded as wood waste.

Leding said that if the U.S. adopts a national standard, its enforcement should be equally strong for both domestically produced and imported composite panel products.

He also said that if a national rule is not adopted, panel producers could face a difficult smorgasbord of state-by-state regulations.

CARB has reported that other states will be watching how California's enforcement is received, in case they want to adopt a similar rule. Among them are Minnesota and Oregon.

Brock Landry, general counsel to the Composite Panel Assn., said the organization was in favor of seeing the rule implemented nationally, but doesn't believe that classification of formaldehyde as a substance with unreasonable risk is appropriate.

Landry said that the organization worked closely with CARB to develop the California standard, even though that regulation's lower second-phase formaldehyde emissions levels that begin next year are not what it proposed.

He called the CARB regulation "draconian" in terms of enforcement fines and violations, and requiring extensive chain of custody documentation.

Dave Harmon, a North American technical manager for Hexion Specialty Chemicals, said that enforcement would be critical to any national rule and that instances of false CARB certification documentation accompanying composite panels have already started.

While he urged the EPA to adopt the CARB measure, Darrell Keeling, a former chairman of the Composite Panel Assn. and vice president of composite manufacturing for Roseburg Forest Products, said there are still problems with producing enough alternative resins to use in board.

"There is not enough supply of alternate resins to satisfy the production demand for one company, not to mention the rest of the industry," Keeling said.

While Roseberg had created this sort of niche product on a limited basis, Keeling said that its alternative board can cost about 60% more and resins that go into that board are about 70% more expensive.

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