Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

On June 10, 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed rules “to help protect Americans from exposure to formaldehyde by ensuring that composite wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States meet formaldehyde emission standards established by Congress in 2010.” (See EPA Fact Sheet here.)

Soy-based resins can be used as an alternative to formaldehyde-based resins in composite wood products to reduce potential exposures to formaldehyde and meet federal emission standards. On July 7, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act into law. The law sets limits on how much formaldehyde may be emitted from composite wood products, including hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard, and finished goods containing these products. The law specifically includes resins made with soy under the definition of “no-added formaldehyde-based resin.” (See copy of the law here.)

Formaldehyde is a chemical widely used in manufacturing building materials and household products, including resins that are used to manufacture some composite wood products. According to EPA, formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat and may cause some types of cancers at high levels of exposure. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)’s 12th Report on Carcinogens listed formaldehyde as a “known human carcinogen.” (See here.)

EPA is required by the 2010 law to develop regulations to implement the formaldehyde limits and ensure they are met. In June 2013, EPA proposed implementing rules that include the limits for emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products and other requirements for how manufacturers, importers, and retailers must comply with the law, including testing, chain of custody, labeling, and recordkeeping. EPA is proposing that one year after the rules are finalized, products that are not in compliance with the rule may no longer be produced or sold in the United States. California already has a similar law on these wood products in place. The emissions standards in California are identical to those in EPA’s proposal but there are some differences in other parts of the regulations.  (See copy of EPA proposed rule here.)

EPA’s proposed rule includes exemptions from certain testing and reporting requirements for products that are made with no-added formaldehyde and ultra low-emitting formaldehyde resins. Using soy-based resins, therefore, will not only reduce potential exposures to formaldehyde but will also provide some relief from the regulatory requirements EPA is proposing for composite wood product manufacturers.

More resources about formaldehyde and composite wood products can be found at: