EPA Updates Wood Product Emission Standards


Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was finalizing updates to its Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The latest rule updates will affect manufacturers, sellers and suppliers of hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard and/or products containing these composite wood materials. This is the third time the EPA has updated the voluntary consensus standards in the 2016 final rule.

Rule Background

Formaldehyde is used as an adhesive in a wide range of wood products, including some furniture, flooring, cabinets, bookcases and building materials including plywood and wood panels.

The Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act was signed into law in 2010, establishing emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products. In 2016, the EPA implemented its rule with provisions of the 2010 Act to reduce exposure to formaldehyde emissions from certain wood products produced in or imported into the United States.

Under the new federal rule, certain wood product manufacturers in the U.S. and those abroad who sell products in the U.S. were required to test, certify and label their products as compliant with national formaldehyde emission standards.

The EPA worked with the California Air Resources Board to help ensure that the final national rule was consistent with California’s requirements for similar composite wood products.

The rule was updated in 2017 to remove a provision in the formaldehyde final rule that prohibited early labeling of compliant products. Removal of the prohibition on early labeling allowed regulated entities to voluntarily label compliant products as soon as compliance can be achieved. 

In 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order addressing the litigation over the December 2018 compliance date for the formaldehyde standards for composite wood products. 

Additional technical amendments were made in 2019 to further align the TSCA regulations with the CARB’s Airborne Toxic Control Measure to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood and provide clarity on certain rule provisions.

Latest Changes

In September of last year, the EPA proposed to update two voluntary consensus standards in the final rule under the TSCA. Voluntary consensus standards are technical specifications for products or processes developed by standard-setting bodies that are incorporated into the rule to assist with defining the composite wood products subject to the rule and to identify quality-control test methods.

The Composite Panel Association, a standard-issuing body that sponsors industry product standards, commented that two of its standards would be updated shortly and recommended that EPA include these newly updated standards in the final rule during the public comment period.

The EPA then issued a notice of the proposed rulemaking to include the updated standards, citing that they were needed to ensure continued consistency with the standards adopted and used by industry.

The two updated voluntary consensus standards for dimensional tolerances, physical and mechanical properties, and formaldehyde emissions are for:

  • Particleboard, along with methods of identifying products conforming to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard; and
  • Medium density fiberboard (MDF), along with methods of identifying products conforming to the ANSI standard.

In an emailed release on Feb. 21, the Agency finalized the updates to the standards. The action finalizes proposed changes, including:

  • Updating 10 voluntary consensus standards to reflect the editions of the standards currently in use by regulated entities and industry stakeholders. Voluntary consensus standards are technical specifications for products or processes developed by standard-setting bodies that are incorporated into EPA’s final rule to assist with defining the composite wood products subject to the rule and to identify quality control test methods. The updates in the final rule ensure continued consistency with industry standards.   
  • Allowing for remote inspections when unsafe conditions prevent a third-party certifier (TPC) from traveling to the area in person. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, EPA provided temporary flexibility to allow TPCs to conduct remote inspections to satisfy requirements of the rule. EPA is now making this flexibility permanent and will allow TPCs to conduct required initial on-site inspections, quarterly inspections and sample collections remotely when in-person, on-site inspections are temporarily infeasible because of unsafe conditions.  
  • Including certain technical corrections and updates to create additional flexibilities for the third-party certification process, as well as clarifying language related to production of wood products. These corrections will better align EPA’s rule with California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements, allowing the two programs to work in tandem to create an effective, efficient regulatory regime. These corrections would also decrease burden on industry seeking to work both in California and the broader U.S. market. 

Additionally, the EPA notes that formaldehyde is undergoing a separate risk evaluation under the TSCA. A final scope document was published outlining the hazards, exposures, conditions of use, and the potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations the agency expects to consider in August, but the next step in the process will be to issue a draft risk evaluation for public comment. 

The final rule, which can be found here, goes into effect on March 23, 2023.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Construction chemicals; Emissions; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Wood; Wood composites

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