PhotoLumber Liquidators is denying charges that some of its laminate wood products contain hazardous quantities of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The allegations were aired on last weekend's "60 Minutes" broadcast on CBS.

The company's founder and chairman, Tom Sullivan, says the allegations are a plot to drive down the firm's stock price and insists Lumber Liquidators products are "100% safe." 

"These attacks are driven by a small group of short-selling investors who are working together for the sole purpose of making money by lowering our stock price. They are using any means to try and scare our customers with inaccurate allegations," Sullivan said in a prepared statement. "Their motives and methods are wrong and we will fight these false attacks on all fronts."

Naturally occurring

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance that finds its way into many manufactured products, including paneling, cabinetry and furniture. While formaldehyde may be present in some of the glues the company uses, Sullivan insisted the company complies with all applicable regulations, including those established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), generally considered the toughest in the nation.

"60 Minutes used an improper test method in its reporting that is not included in California’s regulations and does not measure a product according to how it is actually used by consumers," Sullivan said. "60 Minutes used a 'deconstructive test,' which would be like testing the emissions of a car by removing the catalytic converter and muffler."

The controversy is reminiscent of the "killer drywall" scandal that swirled around drywall imported from China a few years ago. The drywall contained impurities that resulted in emissions of sulfuric gases, causing corrosion in electrical wiring and other damages to homes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eventually concluded, however, that whatever the drywall's effect on property, there was no evidence that the drywall caused any deaths or serious illness.

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that high levels of formaldehyde may cause short-term effects including watery eyes, wheezing and skin irritation.  

NCI notes that formaldehyde is "used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials." It is also present in the tailpipe emissions of most cars. 

What to do

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends these steps to reduce formaldehyde in your home or workplace:

Remove formaldehyde-emitting products from your home.

  • Directly reduces formaldehyde levels
  • Prevents other materials in the area, such as carpet and gypsum board, from absorbing and then re-emitting formaldehyde

Bring large amounts of fresh air into the home.

  • Increases ventilation by opening doors and windows and by using an exhaust fan(s) to air out indoor spaces.

Seal the surfaces of formaldehyde-emitting products that are not already laminated or coated.

  • Use a vapor barrier, such as some paints, varnishes, or a layer of vinyl or polyurethanelike materials
  • Seal completely with a material that does not contain formaldehyde
  • Many paints and coatings emit other VOCs when curing; therefore, ventilate the area well during and after treatment.

Install “manufactured-home,” pressed-wood products.

  • Made with composites meeting the Ultra Low Emission Formaldehyde (ULEF) or No Added Formaldehyde (NAF) requirements


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