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Your laminate floor could be toxic

A leading news program recently reported that Chinese made laminate flooring may contain unsafe levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde. In some cases, the show reported, the suspected flooring was emitting formaldehyde at a level more than 13 times the standard limit even though it was labeled as complying with Established standards. The US government is investigating the claim, and homeowners who installed the suspicious flooring are demanding that the seller should remove and replace it.  Across the USA, hundreds of thousands of homes already have the tainted flooring installed, according to the report.

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring volatile organic compound (VOC) found in plants, fruits, vegetables and even animals and humans. Formaldehyde is naturally present in indoor and outdoor air at a very low level. A synthetic form of formaldehyde is manufactured as a chemical used as an adhesive in cabinetry and flooring, among other products.

After manufacturing, products containing formaldehyde continue to emit the colorless (but not odorless) gas into the air. This process is known as “off-gassing” – the release into the air of a gas that was dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in some material. Off-gassing is not normally a problem when products are used outdoors. But indoors, the emitted gas may build up quickly. This off-gassing process increases when the temperature rises above 22 degrees Celsius  and/or humidity levels climb above 50%. Although levels of formaldehyde emissions decrease over time, significant off-gassing may continue for months and even years.

Short- and long-term concerns

The potential dangers of exposure to formaldehyde include both short- and long-term effects:

Short term: When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 parts per million (PPM), some people experience respiratory symptoms including a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat. Other symptoms include coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation.

Long term: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)has listed formaldehyde as a “probable human carcinogen.”

How to test for formaldehyde

There are two basic ways to test for formaldehyde:

  1. Hire an expert. An indoor air quality expert can sample for formaldehyde using tests that are not generally available to consumers, and can also help interpret results. Health and safety organisations in your region may have listings of local licensed professionals.
  2. Obtain a testing kit for consumers. Some kits are for testing only, while other kits include analysis components that allow you to determine results without sending the sample off to a lab. The accuracy and reliability of consumer testing and analysis kits vary widely.

How to reduce existing levels of formaldehyde

If formaldehyde from your floor (or any other indoor source) is making you sick, you should consider removing the flooring (or other source). This can directly reduce formaldehyde levels.

Increased ventilation will also help reduce existing levels. The best way to increase ventilation is by opening doors and windows and using an exhaust fan.

How to reduce your exposure to formaldehyde

  1. Air out new products. When purchasing and installing new flooring (or other composite wood products), allow the product to air out in a garage or other covered space for a few days. This will allow formaldehyde and other pollutants to off-gas before the product is brought into the house.
  2. Ventilate. After installation, proper ventilation will help speed up any additional off-gassing. Open up windows, use a central ventilation system if available, and run exhaust fans as much as possible.
  3. Clean the air. Consider using a high-performance air purifier with high-quality activated carbon that will filter formaldehyde from the indoor air before it can be inhaled. However, air cleaning likely will not help if the source is not removed.

Remember, in addition to laminate flooring and cabinetry, formaldehyde is also found in carpeting, cosmetics and other products around your home. The best way to protect yourself and your home from excessive formaldehyde gas is to learn how to recognize and reduce or eliminate the possible sources and risks in your home.

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