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Sen. Klobuchar's bill regulates formaldehyde

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A consumer-protection measure introduced Friday by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar could affect wood products manufacturing.

Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced legislation to protect consumers by establishing national health standards for formaldehyde in composite wood products, which would apply to both domestic products and foreign imports.

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The standards would force changes in the manufacture of pressed wood products, such as Norbord or OSB --oriented strand board --production.

"I've always believed that the first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens," said Klobuchar on a statement. "High levels of formaldehyde are a health threat. This bill will establish national standards that, when fully phased-in, will be the strongest in the world. These standards will both protect public health and ensure an even playing field between domestic wood products and foreign imports."

In recent years, there have been concerns about the potential health hazards posed by high concentrations of formaldehyde in composite wood products, she said. The domestic wood products industry has already adopted voluntary standards to limit formaldehyde, but domestic products face competition from cheaper imported wood products that may contain high concentrations of formaldehyde.

"This legislation is pro-industry, pro-consumer, pro-environment and pro-public health," Klobuchar said. "Its passage will be a legislative grand slam."

Formaldehyde is a chemical that is used in many products as an adhesive, bonding agent or solvent. Most composite wood (made from wood pieces, particles or fibers bonded together with resin) contains some formaldehyde. Composite wood is used in common household products such as furniture, cabinets, shelving, countertops, flooring and molding.

At room temperature, formaldehyde releases an invisible gas into the air. If breathed in at high concentrations, it can pose a health hazard, Klobuchar said.

The chemical can cause nausea, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, and difficulty breathing for some people who are exposed to high concentrations. Formaldehyde is listed as "a probable human carcinogen" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Estimates by the state of California suggest that daily prolonged exposure to formaldehyde may contribute to tens of thousands cancer cases in the U.S. each year.

In recent years, there have been concerns about the potential health hazards posed by high concentrations of formaldehyde in composite wood products. The domestic wood products industry has already adopted voluntary standards to limit formaldehyde, but domestic products face competition from cheaper imported wood products that may contain high concentrations of formaldehyde.

The imports have increased dramatically in the past decade, with China as the principal source, Klobuchar said.

The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act would establish national emission standards under the Toxic Substances Control Act for formaldehyde in new composite wood products. Secondhand products and antiques are exempted.

The standards would match those recently adopted by the California Air Resources Board. The California standards are being phased in over a three-year period and apply to the sale of new particleboard, medium-density fiberboard and hardwood plywood, as well as any products containing these materials.

Under the proposed federal legislation, by January 1, 2012, these products sold in the U.S. would have to meet a formaldehyde emission standards of about 0.09 parts per million. Collectively, they would be the toughest standards in the world, the Minnesota Democrat said.

In addition to establishing the national standards, the legislation would:

  • Require third-party testing and certification to ensure that products with formaldehyde comply with the national standards.
  • Direct the EPA to work with Customs and Border Protection and other relevant federal agencies to enforce the standards for imported wood products.

The legislation has broad support from the wood products industry as well as environmental, health and labor organizations, she said.

"I would like to thank Sen. Klobuchar for her leadership on this issue, and I am pleased to lend my support to this legislation, which will supply manufacturers of composite wood products with a uniform standard for formaldehyde in wood products." Crapo said.. "In addition to providing certainty for industry, this bill aims to achieve important public health benefits as well."

Ralph Scott, spokesman for the Alliance for Healthy Homes, said of the legislation, "By significantly reducing formaldehyde in composite wood products that are so widely used in building materials and furniture products, the Klobuchar and Crapo bill will make our homes much healthier. In addition to helping consumers and the environment, the lower formaldehyde standard will set clear expectations and level the playing field for manufacturers, thus helping them, too."

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