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From our partners at Care2.
Lumber Liquidators, one of the largest flooring retailers in the U.S., appears to be selling laminate that contains unacceptable levels of formaldehyde. The levels are so high, pediatricians worry that children who breathe in air contaminated by formaldehyde emissions could develop asthma or other respiratory ailments.
Global Community Monitor, a non-profit organization that helps citizens monitor air pollution in the U.S. and around the world, has launched a petition on Care2 to get Lumber Liquidators to stop selling unsafe laminate, recall what it has already sold, and replace the toxic laminate with a safe and healthy alternative. You can get the full details of the petition here.
What is Formaldehyde and Why Should You Care?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, formaldehyde is a colorless, reactive, strong-smelling gas at room temperature. A volatile organic compound (VOC), formaldehyde is an industrial chemical that is used in home furnishings, household cleaners, pesticides, paints and flooring, like the laminate being sold by Lumber Liquidators.
The CDC says formaldehyde is dangerous because exposure to it can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing, and allergic reactions. “Long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde has been associated with cancer in people and lab animals,” says the CDC here.
Why is Formaldehyde in Lumber Liquidators Laminate a Problem?
Global Community Monitor had a large sample of the laminates Lumber Liquidators produces in China tested for formaldehyde emissions. Amazingly, the results showed that some laminated flooring contains almost 20 times more than what is legally allowed to be sold. “The test labs thought the machine (used to test for formaldehyde) was broken,” Denny Larson, the group’s CEO, told 60 Minutes when they investigated the story.
In that 60 Minutes report, Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who specializes in environmental pollution at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, told reporter Anderson Cooper, “It’s not a safe level. It’s at a level that the U.S. EPA calls polluted indoor conditions.”
Asked “Would you want that in your home?” Dr. Landrigan answered an emphatic “No!”
Lumber Liquidators has challenged the recent negative press, saying the tests used to gauge the formaldehyde levels are unfair. The tests (designed by the California Air Resources Board, or CARB) rip apart the laminate in the flooring, which helps seal-in the formaldehyde, according to Liquid Lumbers.
That may help a little, but the formaldehyde still poses a risk, says environmental attorney Richard Drury to NPR. “This piece of plastic that’s on top of the board is not an emissions control device, it’s a piece of plastic.”
Dr. Landrigan explained that it might not produce symptoms in everybody, but children are the most vulnerable and likely to show symptoms.
“It would be risky because it increases the risk of chronic respiratory irritations, change in a person’s lung function, and increased risk of asthma.”
Global Community Monitor is directing its petition at Tom Sullivan, CEO and Founder of Lumber Liquidators. It is asking Sullivan to “take action today to stop selling any unsafe Chinese laminate.” It also urges the company to “pay to remove and replace the flooring for those who unsuspectingly bought their products containing this toxic chemical.”
You can get more information and sign the petition here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 12, 2015 CONTACTS: Denny Larson, GCM, 415-845-4705; Richard Drury, Esq., Lozeau Drury LLP, 510-836-4200
Today, Lumber Liquidators acknowledged that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has tested Lumber Liquidators’ products and preliminary results show that some of the products exceed the CARB formaldehyde standard. The admission was made by the company’s CEO, Robert Lynch during a conference call. Lumber Liquidators also announced, for the first time, that it is offering free formaldehyde tests and potentially the replacement of floors which may be found to exceed acceptable levels of formaldehyde.
The transcript from today’s briefing states: “CARB has ‘deconstructed’ our products in routine inspections, as well as we believe others in the industry, in order to try to determine if the core materials complied. In CARB’s preliminary findings, some of our samples they deconstructed and tested (due to the variability of the test) exceeded the limits for raw cores.”
“CARB testing is the standard to which Lumber Liquidators’ laminate products must be held,” said Denny Larson, Executive Director of GCM. “They admitted today that CARB has made a preliminary finding that some of their products have failed to pass the formaldehyde test conducted by CARB. Lumber Liquidators must go farther to make sure that all of their laminate products comply with the standard and provide increased protection for the consumers.” GCM has asked Lumber Liquidators to disclose which products failed the CARB testing and by how much above the CARB formaldehyde standard. Lumber Liquidators’ laminate products have now failed to pass the CARB formaldehyde test conducted dozens of times by 60 Minutes, at least three independent laboratories, and apparently by CARB itself. While Lumber Liquidators continues to dispute the test method, the test method has been adopted, published and applied by CARB itself.
Global Community Monitor is a nonprofit environmental health and justice organization empowering communities to prevent their exposure to toxic chemicals and promote healthy outcomes for all. Global Community Monitor is joined in the Proposition 65 lawsuit by Sunshine Park, a firm affiliated with private investment companies that have substantial short financial exposure to Lumber Liquidators. Sunshine Park and its affiliates have financed extensive testing and have conducted substantial on-the-ground investigation regarding Chinese-made laminate flooring production.
GCM Announces New Testing Results of Lumber Liquidators Chinese‐made Laminates
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 2, 2015
GCM Announces New Testing Results of Lumber Liquidators Chinese‐made Laminates
All Chinese‐made Laminates Purchased for Testing Failed CARB Standards
Why These Tests Matter
As noted in the 60 Minutes report, which aired on March 1, 2015, probably tens of thousands of households in California and probably hundreds of thousands of households nationwide are being exposed to formaldehyde emissions from Lumber Liquidators Chinese‐made laminate flooring(i).
According to its website, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) “evaluated formaldehyde exposure in California and found that one of the major sources of exposure is from inhalation of formaldehyde emitted from composite wood products containing urea‐formaldehyde resins. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified formaldehyde from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans” in 2004, based on the increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. Formaldehyde was also designated as a toxic air contaminant (TAC) in California in 1992 with no safe level of exposure. State law requires ARB to take action to reduce human exposure to all TACs.” (emphasis added).(ii)
CARB’s emissions standards regulate the formaldehyde emissions from “composite wood products” such as particleboard, plywood, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These composite wood products are used in finished goods such as laminate flooring, furniture, or shelving. The underlying particleboard, plywood, or MDF is sometimes referred to as the “core” of the finished good.
CARB’s emission standards make it unlawful to sell products, including laminate wood flooring, in California that contain composite wood cores that exceed certain formaldehyde levels set by CARB.
The Test Method & Results
The tests analyzed Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring purchased in California both in stores and online – the same flooring that consumers would purchase. Lumber Liquidators states that this laminate flooring complies with the CARB Phase 2 Formaldehyde standard. Three different laboratories conducted extensive testing on this flooring – these labs performed over 80 “deconstruction tests” (of which 76 were on Chinese‐made laminates) using the CARB‐approved finished goods methodology and over 200 other formaldehyde tests.
Every single U.S.‐made Lumber Liquidators laminate product purchased for testing passed the CARB standard. Every single Chinese‐made Lumber Liquidators laminate product purchased for testing failed the CARB standard – and by a large average margin. The average formaldehyde emissions of the Chinese‐made products tested was over 6x the CARB legal limit for the MDF core.
All Three Laboratories Used the CARB‐Approved Test Method
Each of the testing laboratories used the finished goods sample preparation method and test method developed by CARB and published on CARB’s website. This is the official CARB test method. CARB has only one published test method for testing for formaldehyde in finished products containing composite wood cores, and that is the test method the independent laboratories used.
The purpose of the deconstruction is to expose the composite wood core so that its emissions can be compared against CARB’s numeric limit. CARB has published a “Standard Operating Procedure” for finished goods testingiii. According to this SOP, this procedure “is to be used to prepare a finished good for laboratory testing to determine if the finished good complies with” CARB standards.(iv) Senior CARB personnel have confirmed that the SOP is the official CARB methodology for analyzing formaldehyde emissions from finished goods.
Lumber Liquidators has criticized the CARB test method, but that industry argument has long since been rejected by CARB. CARB’s official legislative history from 2007 states:
Yes it is correct that finished products must be deconstructed to test for compliance. But, we disagree that there is great uncertainty in the enforcement program. Deconstructive testing is needed for finished goods to verify compliance with the emission standards. We are currently developing the sample preparation and testing protocols that we will use to enforce the ATCM (see page 127 of the ISOR). The sample preparation and emission testing protocol we use to enforce the ATCM will be technically sound and will be more than adequate to identify non‐ compliant composite wood products found in finished goods for California.(v)
Although Lumber Liquidators says it has done testing, it does not say that it has performed deconstructive testing.
The company also posted a chart of “Fiberboard Core Testing” on its website. If these tests were performed by “Third Party Certifiers” (TPCs)vi in China, it would only indicate that the core manufacturer is capable of producing CARB‐compliant cores – not that the cores used in Lumber Liquidators’ products are actually CARB compliant. As noted by 60 Minutes, “[e]mployees at the mills openly admitted that they use core boards with higher levels of formaldehyde to make Lumber Liquidators laminates…they also admitted falsely labeling the company’s laminate flooring as CARB2”. In addition, TPCs sometimes conduct testing on pre‐scheduled dates (rather like announcing the location of highway “speed traps.”) Therefore, TPC tests do not, and cannot, prove that all of Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese‐made products sold in the United States comply with CARB standards. Lumber Liquidators has acknowledged as much in a public court filing:
“A [third‐party certification] is obtained from an approved, third‐party testing lab that tests samples of products – not every product – for formaldehyde levels. Thus, LL’s statement that it obtains [third‐party certifications] from its suppliers (mills) is in no way a representation that every single product meets CARB’s standards.”(vii)
Global Community Monitor is a nonprofit environmental health and justice organization empowering communities to prevent their exposure to toxic chemicals and promote healthy outcomes for all. Global Community Monitor is joined in the Proposition 65 lawsuit by Sunshine Park, a firm affiliated with private investment companies that have substantial short financial exposure to Lumber Liquidators. Sunshine Park and its affiliates have financed extensive testing and have conducted substantial on‐the‐ ground investigation regarding Chinese‐made laminate flooring production.
(i) Lumber Liquidators (LL) has stated that it had “over 620,000 customer transactions” in 2014 alone. LL also states that Laminate, Bamboo, Cork, and Vinyl Plank together accounted for 38% of net sales in 2014. In previous years, LL also disclosed that laminates were 22%, 23%, and 21% of net sales in 2012, 2011, and 2010, respectively. Source: Lumber Liquidators Holdings, Inc. SEC filings
(ii) See http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm
(iii) This SOP can be found in the “Test Methods” section of CARB’s website (http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/outreach/testmethods.htm)
(iv) See http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/outreach/compwood_sop_fg_decon_091313.pdf
v See http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/2007/compwood07/fsorcompwood07.pdf [Agency Response [24‐Landry‐ 070423‐CWIC] (emphasis added).
(vi) CARB defines a Third Party Certifier as “an organization or entity approved by the Executive Officer that verifies the accuracy of the emission test procedures and facilities used by manufacturers to conduct formaldehyde emission tests, monitors manufacturer quality assurance programs, and provides independent audits and inspections.” See http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/certifiers.htm
(vii) See Donnie Williamson, et al., v Lumber Liquidators, Inc. Case #1:14‐00035‐GBL‐TCB. “Memorandum in Support of Defendant Lumber Liquidators, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss Under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).” Emphasis in original
Thank you to everyone who watched 60 Minutes last night and supported us. Today, our phone lines are ringing off of the hook and we’re doing our best to respond to all of the e-mails and messages. We’ve updated our website with more information.