Three Questions to Ask Manufacturers About Formaldehyde in Wood Products
By Dwight Chapman
Sustainability in homes and offices is increasingly important to those who live and work in those spaces. A growing concern is the impact of formaldehyde on indoor air quality, particularly since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially designated it as a human carcinogen in mid-2011. In fact, the 12th Report on Carcinogens from the National Toxicology Program asserts that sufficient evidence from studies in humans shows that “individuals with higher measures of exposure to formaldehyde are at increased risk for certain types of rare cancers.”
Understanding the facts about formaldehyde in indoor environments is of particular importance to interior designers. Why? Because wood-binding adhesives in some decorative plywood, wood composites and engineered wood found in interior wood products (such as kitchen cabinets, desks, tables and engineered wood flooring), emit formaldehyde.
The fact is that a range of adhesive systems are used to make decorative plywood, wood composites and engineered woods, and the amount of formaldehyde these adhesives release into the environment varies by system. Urea formaldehyde (UF) adhesives add the most formaldehyde to engineered woods and also emit the highest levels of formaldehyde. These are the most widely used adhesive systems today, likely because they perform well and are the lowest cost. Phenol formaldehyde (PF) and melamine formaldehyde (MF) adhesives are in the middle of the spectrum. They also contain formaldehyde, but emit less into the environment than UF adhesives. At the other end of the spectrum are no-added-formaldehyde (NAF) adhesives, which do not release any formaldehyde into the environment.
Several NAF systems are available, and should be considered as an alternative to the more traditional products. Some manufacturers have traditionally cited cost as a reason for not switching to woods manufactured with NAF adhesive systems, however, cost is relative. Using manufactured wood containing NAF adhesives is estimated to increase the cost of many finished products by 10 percent at most. Many may find this a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing that the adhesives in the furniture and flooring in their homes, offices and other indoor environments do not emit carcinogens.
So how can interior designers learn the facts about formaldehyde emissions from furniture made with decorative plywood, wood composites and engineered wood? By asking manufacturers of furniture and flooring three basic questions
- Are the decorative plywoods, wood composites and engineered woods used in their products made with no-added-formaldehyde (NAF) adhesives?
- Are their finished products independently third-party certified by GREENGUARD®, Indoor Advantage™ or FloorScore®?
- Do their finished products meet California Air Resources Board standards for ultra-low emitting formaldehyde, the lowest level of emissions?
Manufacturers who answer yes to these questions are clearly committed to producing products that contribute to healthier, sustainable indoor environments. And, armed with the facts, interior designers can ease client concerns about the impact of these products on indoor air quality.