Home Air Tests For Lumber Liquidator Flooring May Not Provide Useful Info: EPA

Federal regulators are questioning the usefulness of home air tests being supplied by Lumber Liquidators, which are promoted as a way for homeowners to test whether the company’s laminate flooring may be releasing harmful levels of toxic gas. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has posted a series of questions and answers on Lumber Liquidator laminate flooring, which may release high levels of formaldehyde.

In the Q&A, the agency cautions consumers against relying too heavily on tests Lumber Liquidators is supplying to concerned customers.

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Questions over formaldehyde problems with Lumber Liquidators flooring surfaced after a “60 Minutes” segment earlier this year, which found that products imported from China and sold in California failed to meet the state’s formaldehyde emissions standards.

Some experts suggest that tens of thousands of homes in the state, and potentially hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses nationwide, may be contaminated with toxic Chinese-made flooring.

To address concerns from its customers, Lumber Liquidators began offering free indoor air quality screening to customers who received the flooring in early March. It has sent out thousands of home test kits since them and claims that the tests analyzed to date found that more than 97% indicated that air concentrations of formaldehyde were within World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Company officials say customers whose tests showed levels of formaldehyde exceeding the guidelines have been notified by the company. However, the EPA raises doubts about the validity of those tests.

“EPA has not taken a position on the Lumber Liquidators testing program but cautions the public that air testing may not provide useful information due to the uncertainties of home air testing, the lack of widely accepted health based standards for formaldehyde levels in indoor air to compare test results, and because air testing does not provide information on specific sources of formaldehyde, such as laminate flooring,” the agency warned. “The ‘normal indoor air’ levels cited in the Lumber Liquidators’ letter to its customers originate from a paper published in 2010 entitled Formaldehyde in the Indoor Environment, by Dr. Tunga Salthammer. This document is one of many studies referenced in EPA’s external draft document, Toxicological Review of Formaldehyde Inhalation Toxicity: In Support of Summary Information on the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). This draft toxicologial review does not represent a conclusion by the Agency on the safety of formaldehyde levels in homes.”

Reports suggest that the Justice Department is likely to file criminal charges against Lumber Liquidators for violations of the Lacy Act, which forbids the import of illegally logged wood. The company removed the flooring from the market last month.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is also investigating the company. If the CPSC finds that the flooring is unsafe, it could result in a Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring recall.

A growing number of Lumber Liquidators class action lawsuits have been filed by consumers who have experienced problems with the company’s Chinese-imported flooring.

A panel of federal judges is currently considering whether to consolidate all Lumber Liquidator lawsuits under one judge for pretrial proceedings after hearing oral arguments late last month.

The creation of a Lumber Liquidators multidistrict litigation (MDL) would centralize the cases before one judge to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

Formaldehyde is a chemical used to manufacture building materials, resins, household products and is used as an embalming agent. It is classified as a probable carcinogen by the EPA and was determined by the National Academy of Sciences to cause cancer in humans. However, the EPA has never passed regulations which set acceptable formaldehyde gas levels for flooring.

Common symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde may include respiratory symptoms, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, chest pain, vomiting and rashes. The chemical has been linked to some forms of cancer and leukemia.

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