Consumers across the country stand to benefit from a federal court order making limits on formaldehyde emissions in manufactured wood products effective by June 1.
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that also causes and exacerbates respiratory illnesses. Formaldehyde emissions have posed a public-health risk for years, particularly to vulnerable populations, which Congress recognized in passing a statute to regulate these emissions in 2010. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dragged its feet in putting the tougher safety standards in place, and the Trump administration put off the compliance deadlines until December 12, 2018.
The Sierra Club and A Community Voice-Louisiana challenged that extension as illegal, and the court ruled in their favor, holding that the EPA exceeded its authority in extending the deadline.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White issued an Order mandating compliance with the formaldehyde limits by all newly manufactured or imported wood products.
In his previous Order on the merits of the case, Judge White held that, “The interpretation advanced by the EPA…is contrary to law and beyond the valid grant of authority bestowed upon the agency by Congress in the Formaldehyde Act.” He emphasized that, “The clear purpose of the Act and plain meaning of its core provisions was to set expeditious compliance standards.”
“We are extremely relieved that limits on harmful emissions of formaldehyde from these wood products finally will go into effect in just a few short months,” said Patti Goldman, one of the Earthjustice attorneys who represented the plaintiffs. “At last, the public’s health will be protected from dangerous products Congress wanted off the shelves years ago.”
The court order setting the compliance deadline also levels the competitive playing field for many U.S.-based manufacturers of wood products and the consumer goods made with them. These domestic companies already have reduced formaldehyde emissions to the levels mandated by Congress, but often, they have been undercut by foreign products that don’t meet the same safety standards.
As of June 1, 2018, imported wood products will be held to the same emissions standards.
Requiring the EPA to meet this long-awaited deadline should mean safer furniture, cabinets, flooring, travel trailers and even emergency housing. The severity of formaldehyde exposure risks became apparent after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when some of the temporary housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made people ill.
“It's well past time for the EPA to do its job and comply with its own rules. Americans recovering from disasters should not be saddled with even more concerns over their health,” said Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program.
In Louisiana, Debra Campbell’s family is still feeling those effects.
“When we were moved into an emergency-housing trailer after Hurricane Katrina, we soon realized that it was detrimental to our health,” said Campbell, secretary for A Community Voice-Louisiana. “My mother and her sister, my son and I had nosebleeds and other symptoms we first thought were allergies, but they got more serious. Today, my mom has COPD and the rest of us continue to have our health monitored.
“I feel great about the court’s decision,” Campbell continued. “It will save someone else from going through what we had to.”