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EPA Targets Formaldehyde Vapors

Jan. 2, 2017
Long-awaited emissions standard applies to certain composite wood products

[pullquote]On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a long-awaited final rule to reduce exposure to formaldehyde vapors from certain wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States. Formaldehyde is found in the adhesives used in a range of composite wood products. This column summarizes the new rule.


California has pioneered many standards for consumer products, including composite wood products; the California Air Resources Board (CARB) created formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products years ago. Based on the success of the California program, on July 7, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act. The law added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and established limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products, including hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard.

The national emissions standards in the federal law are expressly designed to reduce exposures to formaldehyde to avoid adverse health effects and mirror standards previously established in California by CARB for products sold, offered for sale, supplied, used or manufactured for sale in California. Under the federal law, Congress tasked the EPA to develop implementing regulations. The final rule, a pre-publication copy of which was issued in July but only published in the Federal Register in December, reflects the EPA’s response to the law.

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Key Provisions of New Rule

According to EPA estimates, the rule will impact more than 900,000 entities, including many small ones. The rule sets forth standards applicable to specified wood products, requiring they be tested, certified and labeled unless otherwise exempt. The final rule limits formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that are sold, manufactured, or imported in the United States; these products must be labeled as TSCA Title VI compliant one year after the rule is published. The final rule sets forth specific testing requirements to ensure that products comply with those standards and establishes a third-party certification program to ensure composite-wood-panel producers comply with the new emissions limits. The regulations also establish requirements for accreditation bodies to be recognized by the EPA that will accredit the third-party certifiers. The final rule includes exemptions from some labeling requirements. In addition, products made with ultra-low-emitting or no-added formaldehyde resins are subject to diminished certification and testing requirements.

All wood panel producers are required to have their products tested by an EPA TSCA Title VI third-party certifier (TPC) for compliance with the emissions standards. Panel producers also are required to conduct quality control tests on a regular basis to verify that regulated composite wood products meet emissions standards. In addition, TPCs are required to establish quality control limits for formaldehyde emissions as well as determine a process to ensure panel producers and laminated product producers are meeting these limits. TPCs must also inspect panel producers’ products and records and verify quality control test results.

As noted, by December 2017, composite wood products sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured or imported in the United States must be labeled as TSCA Title VI compliant. By including provisions for laminated products in the final rule, product testing requirements, labeling, recordkeeping and import certification, the EPA believes the rule ensures that hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard products are in compliance with the emission standards.

Next Steps

To support the rule’s implementation, the EPA is hosting webinars that will cover the key elements in the final rule. There will be separate webinars specific to the different categories of entities regulated. The EPA also will host separate webinars for accreditation bodies and TPCs involved in the Third-Party Certification program on how to use the Central Data Exchange (CDX) platform to submit applications and reports to the EPA. The agency also intends to publish compliance guides in 2017 specific to the different regulated entities to assist each entity in understanding what is required of them under the final rule.


The new rule is expansive, important, and will impact many business entities. Affected entities should read and understand the rule, begin now to comply with it, and be prepared to certify compliance by December 2017.

LYNN L. BERGESON is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at [email protected]

Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on conventional, biobased, and nanoscale chemical industry issues. She served as chair of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (2005-2006).

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