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The debate over formaldehyde returns to the Gulf Coast today (March 4) as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a public hearing in New Orleans about whether to regulate formaldehyde emissions from pressed wood products.
The Elkart Ind. Truth reported that environmental and industry groups are urging the federal agency to adopt the new standards developed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Being implemented in two phases, the CARB wood products standard limits formaldehyde emissions to 0.08 parts per million, the strictest regulation in the United States.
“Had we had these regulations in place, we probably could have avoided some of the worst problems with the FEMA trailers,” said Oliver Bernstein, spokesman for the Sierra Club.
The furor over formaldehyde was sparked after higher levels of the chemical were found in some recreational vehicles used as temporary housing after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Although the Sierra Club will have a “toxic trailer” on display during the hearing, Bernstein said the RV industry is not being targeted.
Rather, the goal is to get a national formaldehyde emission standard for composite wood that includes “independent evaluation and third-party certification of imported products,” Bernstein said.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association adopted the CARB standards in 2008 and now manufacturers must build their units to meet those emission levels as a condition of membership in the association, said Kevin Broom, RVIA spokesman.
The Composite Panel Association, which represents North American manufacturers of particleboard, medium-density fiberboard and hardboard, has joined the Sierra Club in support of national regulation.
In particular, a uniform standard would enable U.S. composite wood makers to compete against imports, said Tom Julia, president of the association. Testing the wood products, verifying that they meet the standard and enforcing regulations will force overseas manufacturers not only to meet the formaldehyde emission limits but to raise the price of their goods to levels that are comparable to domestic brands.
“I’m not a fan of big government,” Julia said, “but I am a fan of fairness.”
The EPA has been holding public hearings across the country to determine if it should set a national standard. Julia believes the agency will decide to regulate formaldehyde emissions and could have a limit in place in the next 12 months.
No so fast, said the Formaldehyde Council. While the organization does not oppose a uniform code, it does not consider the EPA to be the best agency to develop the standard.
The council is concerned the EPA could impose a limit that leads to a perception that any formaldehyde emission could endanger an individual’s health, said Betsy Natz, executive director of the organization.
“We believe there is a safe level,” she said.