Health problems and laminate wood flooring are back in the news. The cause of alarm centers around formaldehyde, a known-carcinogenic, that is used in some pressed wood products like laminate wood flooring. Formaldehyde is found in a variety of home and consumer products. It is used in plywood, particleboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), wood floor finishes, adhesives, paint, wrinkle-free treatments for textiles, home cleaning products and cosmetics. It is also found in emissions from unvented heaters, wood burning stoves, kerosene oil, natural gas, cigarettes and e-cigarettes. You may be able to tell by the odor that a product contains large amounts of formaldehyde. Think of that new set of pressed wood shelves you bring home from a big box store. You aren’t always going to know that the products you purchase contain formaldehyde. A good to find out which products contain formaldehyde is to visit the Household Products Database. It doesn’t include flooring, but does provide information on a wide array of consumer products, adhesives, paints, etc.
The most common exposure comes from breathing air that contains formaldehyde, which is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is released over time. High concentrations can build up in enclosed unventilated areas. If you remember “FEMA trailers,” the formaldehyde problems arose because of the wood composites used in the construction of the trailer along with poor ventilation. Exposure can cause symptoms like watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, nausea, headaches, and skin irritation. People with respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis, or chronic diseases may be more sensitive. Studies indicate that over time, exposure can lead to an increased risk of cancer (estimated 6-30 cases per 100,000 people).
Formaldehyde levels indoors vary depending on temperature, humidity, and ventilation. There are no federal established safe levels of formaldehyde for indoor air, but there are things you can do to lower your risk level.
- Purchase composite wood products that limit formaldehyde emissions. They may be labeled ULEF (Ultra Low Emission Formaldehyde) or NAF (No Added Formaldehyde).
- Since the release of formaldehyde is accelerated by heat and humidity, maintain a moderate indoor temperature and humidity below 50 percent.
- When you bring new sources of formaldehyde into your home, increase ventilation by opening the windows and using fans to bring in fresh air.
- If possible, remove formaldehyde-emitting products from your home or seal the surfaces with a clear coating that doesn’t contain formaldehyde.
- Do not smoke, especially indoors.
- Spend more time outdoors.
For more information on laminate flooring visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. Other helpful resources: