Deciphering the rules for formaldehyde regulation and labeling, and how to know if the product you want to purchase is compliant.
If you’re building a home, in the middle of a renovation, or considering a remodel, you’ve probably heard the term “CARB 2 Compliant.” In a nutshell, that means reducing the “new home smell” from your new cabinets, flooring, carpet, paint, or furniture. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air compromise indoor air quality and can lead to itchy eyes, headaches, and respiratory issues.
Formaldehyde is one of the most common VOCs. Public safety agencies in the U.S. and Europe have established standards for formaldehyde use in composite wood materials. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a national rule for labeling products compliant with formaldehyde emissions standards that went into effect on June 1, 2018.
Below we explain what the rule is, what it means, and how to tell if a product you’re considering purchasing is compliant.
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring colorless gas—it smells like pickles—and a known human carcinogen. It is often used as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories, as a disinfectant, and in the resins that bond composite wood materials. It’s also found in low levels in natural wood and can be released into the environment through the combustion of fossil fuels and wood or through off-gassing.
What is CARB 2?
CARB is shorthand for the California Air Resources Board. This body governs air quality and researches causes and solutions to air pollution. Phase II of CARB’s Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) went into effect in California in 2010. The rule limits formaldehyde emissions from hardwood plywood (HWPW), medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and particleboard (PB), as well as household and other finished goods containing these products manufactured or sold in California.
Under CARB 2, the limits for formaldehyde emissions are:
- HWPW: .05ppm (parts per million)
- PB: .09 ppm
- MDF: .11 ppm
Types of products affected
There are many finished products made from composite wood materials: kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities, shelving, furniture, engineered hardwood flooring, baseboards, interior doors, picture frames, and children’s toys, among others.
Labeling: CARB 2 vs. TSCA Title VI vs. E1…
CARB Phase II has been the national standard in the U.S. since it was established. To be compliant, a product has to pass a quality control test. Compliant products must be labeled “California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde” or “California Phase 2 Compliant.”
The U.S. national rule set forth by the Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 is consistent with California’s emission and testing standards. As of June 1, 2018, the EPA has implemented a final rule for labeling compliant products:
All composite wood products manufactured or sold in the U.S. must be labeled either CARB ATCM Phase II or Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Title VI compliant. From March 2019, all products must be labeled TSCA Title VI compliant.
While all products imported into the U.S. must comply with the new national labeling rules, some imported products may also carry one of two major foreign labels. E1 is the formaldehyde safety standard in Europe, which permits formaldehyde emissions from MDF up to .10 ppm. The French system ranges from A+ to C, and the labeling convention in Japan is F✫✫✫ and F✫✫✫✫. Skema’s laminate flooring carries an E1 certification and has an A+ under the French system.
Compliance isn’t as simple as printing off a sticker; composite wood manufacturers must have their material tested and approved by one of a handful of third-party agencies.
How to know if a product is compliant
The bottom line is that all products sold in the United States must be compliant with the standards, which have been in effect since 2010—and most will be. However, some uncertified products do find their way into the U.S.; the most common occurrences involve materials made in China. Lumber Liquidators was in the news in recent years for selling Chinese-made laminate flooring that did not comply with health and safety standards.
The European Union typically has as strict or stricter standards for building materials and other health and safety concerns than the U.S. The majority of products sold by European Cabinets & Design Studios are 100% Made in Italy by companies with a long-time commitment to the environment and producing products that are not harmful in any way to occupant health.
In short, every product we sell—kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, custom closets, flooring, staircases, and doors—meets CARB 2 certification standards or better. Click for a complete list of the manufacturers we work with.