Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lumber Liquidators and Formaldehyde

By Doug Berger


The recent 60 Minutes story on Lumber Liquidators has made a number of people in the composite wood industry raise questions regarding compliance with California’s laws.  There is a lot of speculation about what did or didn’t happen and what does the California “Airborne Toxic Control Measure to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products” require from a company which buys and resells product within that state.  The actual code section is CA93120 and within various composite wood industries it is also referred to as CARB requirements, although the California Air Resource Board (CARB) has a much larger scope than just formaldehyde emissions.
CA93120 is concerned with any composite wood products sold in California.  Their approach to regulating this is to start with the manufacturer, but put responsibility on every entity which handles the composite wood from manufacture to the retail.  CA93120 talks about importers, distributers, fabricators and retailers, and many companies take on several of these rolls.  For the most part, these importers, distributers, fabricators and retailers are pass through entities, which means they don’t do anything to the material which would affect the formaldehyde emissions of the composite wood product.  They still need to be able to back up the fact that the material is compliant with CA93120.  That requires more that just a marketing document which says the material is compliant.  CA93120 says that these entities must:

“…take reasonable prudent precautions to ensure that the composite wood products and composite wood products contained in finished goods that they purchase are in compliance.”

The question becomes what does reasonable and prudent precaution mean and how does an importer, distributer, fabricator or retailer prove that they are taking prudent precautions? CA93120 lists four items which that importers, distributors, fabricators and retailers must do at a minimum:

1)     Instructing each supplier that the goods they supply must comply with the applicable emission standard.
2)     Obtaining documentation from each supplier that the materials supplied comply with the applicable emission standard.
3)     Retain records for 2 years showing the date of purchase and the supplier of the composite wood products and finished goods
4)     Retain records for 2 years documenting the precautions taken to ensure that the composite wood products and composite wood products contained in finished goods comply with applicable emission standards.

Each of these items can be implemented through a good quality control system.  For item 1, write it into your purchasing contract and make sure they have signed it. Item 2 is part of an incoming material check.  All material must be labeled in accordance with the program.  Additionally, CA93120 requires that materials have bill of ladings or invoices which have a statement of compliance.  A receiver should be checking this documentation and if your supplier doesn’t have the correct information, they aren’t following the program.  Items 3 and 4 are about retaining the records for 2 years.  Remember that if you don’t document it, it never happened.  The purpose is so that if CARB is investigating a composite wood product you supplied, you can show that you did everything required to insure that the material was compliant.  Item 4 references “precautions taken”.  This is where the question “What precautions need to be taken?” usually appears.  Here are some ideas which could be implemented as “Precautions.”

1)     Require additional documentation from the manufacturer.  CA93120 requires manufacturer to perform QC testing at least weekly.  Require your supplier to provide that documentation with the materials much like a steel mill might provide mill certs with a coil of steel.
2)     Have a 3rd party monitor your quality control system.  An outside entity who will give an unbiased statement about whether your program is being followed.  Did the receiver actually check the records?
3)     Run a verification testing program.  Contract with an outside laboratory to test material from the batches received.  This could be as frequent as every batch of material, or on a case by case basis when “suspect” batches arrive.  CA93120 has provisions for a manufacturer to have an internal lab monitored by the TPC.  There is no reason that a importers, distributors, fabricators and retailers couldn’t do the same thing.

NTA as a 3rd party testing, inspection and certification agency is equipped to help your company implement these precautions.  NTA is TPC-025 under the CA93120 program.  We are staffed with engineers and technical experts and we are geared towards the customer service you want.

To view a demonstration of Formaldehyde Testing (both small scale and large scale), visit our website.

Following is a link to the 60 minutes story on Lumber Liquidators.

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