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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 11, 2016

Industry report concludes that laminate flooring sold at Lumber Liquidators® could cause breathing problems

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (NCEH/ATSDR) has concluded that exposure to formaldehyde in the CPSC-tested laminate flooring made in China and sold at Lumber Liquidators® could cause irritation and breathing problems. At the request of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, NCEH/ATSDR had evaluated possible health effects from formaldehyde released into indoor air from this laminate flooring. (ATSDR Report, February 10, 2015).

In response to concerns raised by a March 1, 2015 report by the CBS news program 60 Minutes that Lumber Liquidators® was selling a Chinese-produced laminate wood flooring product that released high levels of formaldehyde, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) opened an investigation into the safety of formaldehyde used in this flooring and conducted in-depth testing of laminate flooring samples manufactured in China during 2012-2014 that were sold at Lumber Liquidators® stores. In order to conduct its tests, CPSC staff purchased samples of the flooring and hired certified laboratories to conduct chamber tests that most closely replicate in-home exposure scenarios. Those test results were shared with NCEH/ATSDR for further evaluation of the test results for possible health effects.

According to CPSC, the agency has made significant progress toward its goal, which is to provide more specific answers and more specific guidance for consumers who purchased laminate flooring made in China from Lumber Liquidators®. The agency stated that the scientific analysis provided by NCEH/ATSDR was expected to help advance that work even further. The agency noted that since the beginning, Lumber Liquidators® has cooperated with the investigation and that discussions with the company were ongoing.

Recommendations. Based on its conclusions, NCEH/ATSDR recommended the following actions for residents who installed laminate flooring made in China between 2012 and 2014 and sold by Lumber Liquidators®:

  • To reduce formaldehyde already in the home, residents are advised to: (1) open windows for a few minutes every few days to let in fresh air—unless residents have asthma triggered by outdoor air pollution or pollen or are concerned about safety; (2) install and use exhaust fans as much as possible; (3) keep the temperature and humidity inside your home at the lowest comfortable setting; (4) make the home smoke free because tobacco smoke contains formaldehyde; and (5) choose home products with low or no formaldehyde by looking for furniture, wood cabinetry, or flooring made without urea-formaldehyde (UF) glues, pressed-wood products that meet ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) or no added formaldehyde (NAF) requirements, products labeled “No VOC/Low VOC” (volatile organic compound), and insulation that does not have UF foam.
  • To reduce formaldehyde from new products, consumers are advised to: (1) wash permanent-press clothing and curtains before using them; and (2) let new products release formaldehyde outside of living spaces before installing or using them inside.

The report also noted that there was no reason to remove flooring that had been installed more than two years ago because the levels of formaldehyde most likely have gone back to normal levels. However, if the flooring has been in a home for fewer than two years and residents are exhibiting symptoms of formaldehyde exposure, the report recommends professional air testing for the home. The report warned that removal of new laminate flooring could increase formaldehyde release and, therefore, a professional should be consulted before removal.

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