New Formaldehyde Rule Affects Retailers


November/December, 2016—

New Formaldehyde Rule Affects Retailers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this summer issued its final rule for regulating formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that are used as component parts in finished goods—including residential furniture— sold in the United States. The rule applies to both domestically-produced and imported furniture, and all entities within the supply chain, including retailers, are affected by its requirements.

EPA officials worked with the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other stakeholders to draft implementation measures that are generally consistent with California requirements for composite wood products. Retailers who are familiar with the California regulation will find themselves ahead of the game when it comes to complying with the new federal regulation.

“The new rule will level the playing field for domestic manufacturers who have a high rate of compliance with the California standard and will ensure that imported products not subject to California’s requirements will meet the new standard and, thus, not contain dangerous formaldehyde vapors,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention when he released the new rule in July.

Likewise, the rule levels the playing field for retailers who have stores in California or who sell into California via e-commerce or other non-store channels, and have been complying with the California formaldehyde regulation, known simply as CARB, since it was adopted in 2007. When fully implemented in 2013, the California rule became the toughest standard in the world for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. Now, all retailers are subject to, essentially, the same rule.

What Is Required?

The California rule had several specific requirements for retailers. The EPA rule, which becomes effective in December 2017, extends these same requirements to ALL home furnishings retailers:

Retailers are responsible for maintaining a statement of compliance (found on invoices or bills of lading) for any home furnishings product they sell that is made with hardwood plywood, particleboard, or MDF. The regulation requires manufacturers and distributors of these products to supply their retail customers with this compliance statement.

Retailers are responsible for checking to make sure the products they carry are labeled properly—on the box or the item itself. The label must show:

  • The fabricator’s (manufacturer’s) name
  • The date of manufacture
  • The compliance statement

Retailers are responsible for keeping records of compliance on all products that are subject to the regulation. They should make sure the records show the date of purchase and the name of the supplier. These records must be kept for three years.

Many provisions within the final regulation were altered significantly from the original version of the rule proposed by EPA in 2013. Aggressive advocacy on the part of the American Home Furnishings Alliance and its member companies—including hosting EPA officials on factory tours to improve their understanding of the industry’s production processes—led to a greatly improved final rule.

What Products Are Covered?

Three types of composite wood products are covered in the EPA rule: hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard and particleboard. Laminated products made with a wood veneer or woody-grass veneer attached to medium density fiberboard or particleboard also are covered. Manufacturers of these products have until December of 2017 to make sure their core panel meets the EPA’s emission limits, which are the same as in the CARB rule, and to label their products as compliant.

Importers of covered products must obtain a special import certification under the Toxic Substances Control Act—and they have an extra year (until December 2018)—to obtain this paperwork.

Any retailer importing directly from overseas sources must meet this requirement.

Laminated products made with synthetic face veneers, oriented strand board, curved plywood and structural plywood (PS-1 and PS-2) are exempt from the EPA’s formaldehyde rule.

A second phase of compliance kicks in seven years from the rule’s publication date. At this time, companies still making covered laminated products using a formaldehyde-based or ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) resin will be subject to all the testing and certification requirements prescribed in the rule for hardwood plywood producers. Companies using no-added-formaldehyde (NAF) or phenol-formaldehyde (PF) glues will remain exempt from testing and certification.
“This will likely prompt laminated product producers to move away from UF resins to NAF/PF, if it is technically feasible, in order to claim the exemption and take advantage of not having to test and certify the intermediate laminated product and demonstrate compliance via chain-of-custody documentation,” said Bill Perdue, AHFA’s vice president of regulatory affairs.

To help companies navigate the new compliance rules for the EPA rule, AHFA has partnered with the International Wood Products Association and Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association to produce a workshop January 18-19 at The Conference Center at Guilford Technical Community College in Colfax, N.C. Retail compliance executives interested in attending can register at The cost is $249 and includes lunch and a light breakfast both days.

Retail Checklist

The EPA’s new Formaldehyde rule starts in December 2017. Here’s how to prepare:

  1. Maintain a statement of compliance for all products you sell that are made with hardwood plywood, particleboard or MDF—usually found on invoices or bills of lading. Manufacturers and distributors are required to supply this compliance statement.
  2. Make sure the products you carry are labeled properly—on the box or the item itself. The label must show: manufacturer’s name, date of manufacture, and the compliance statement.
  3. Keep records of compliance on all products subject to the regulation—with date of purchase and name of supplier. Records must be kept for three years.

About the Author

Patricia Bowling
Patricia Bowling is AHFA’s vice president of communications. Since 2000, she has overseen print and web-based communications for the Alliance, including the Furniture Executive membership newsletter, all emailed bulletins and alerts, and all press releases pertaining to association programs, events and legislative and regulatory activities.