Anje Jager/  

Rep. Doris Matsui,D-Calif.

Rep. Doris Matsui, who along with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation in 2009 calling for tougher regulations on formaldehyde emissions from certain composite wood products such as particleboard, sees this issue in terms of product safety and trade. “Essentially, this law will protect consumers from harmful formaldehyde emissions, as well as establish a level playing field for American manufacturers and workers,” she tells Builder via e-mail.

To the bill’s critics who say the new regulations are too California-centric, Matsui retorts that before the new federal formaldehyde law, California’s was the country’s only state law regulating formaldehyde emissions. She also dismisses accusations that the new federal bill doesn’t reflect consensus. “The law is a product of intense and careful negotiations between the regulatory authorities, industry, and environmental and health groups across the nation. It was endorsed by each stakeholder and is viewed as the leading law in the world to protect consumers from formaldehyde emissions.”

There are many wood products—including hardboard, softwood, plywood, and OSB—exempted from the new reg because, Matsui explains, they are made from “different resin systems … and historically have had very low emissions.” However, she implies this bill might not be the government’s final word on this matter. “We will continue to see that Americans want to be protected from high-emitting, cheap foreign-made products. They deserve that protection.”

Anje Jager/  

Stan Perry,partner Haynes & Boone, Houston

Stan Perry fears that drawing new attention to the health risks of formaldehyde can only stir up a legal hornet’s nest.

There are more than 12,000 cases of acute myeloid leukemia diagnosed annually. But, Perry notes, until 2008, formaldehyde had been generally associated with the relatively rare nasopharyngeal cancer. And despite new studies, particularly those conducted by the National Cancer Institute, that make a stronger and broader connection between formaldehyde and leukemia and lymphomas, Perry contends “there’s still a lot of debate” about causation and the levels of exposure products with formaldehyde actually emit.

Levels and dosage are “critical” to this debate, he explains, because “all of us are exposed to formaldehyde every day; it’s in the air.” The chemical, in fact, is ubiquitous, and is used as an antimicrobial agent, fungicide, and in oil and gas drilling. Nevertheless, the EPA and the World Health Organization have accepted the new findings, and the topic is now showing up in the consumer press, such as a recent article in The New York Times about formaldehyde levels in hair products. “That’s when you see lawyers seeking people who might have been around formaldehyde.”

He takes EPA’s willingness to set up an advisory panel of small businesses as “a positive sign.” But he also wonders if formaldehyde might eventually become the next poster child for tort litigation and class-action suits, joining the toxic pantheon that includes benzene, asbestos, silica, and beryllium. Therefore, he advises suppliers to keep track of what EPA is doing, and to be prepared to offer comment and documentation about what they make.