By the Sierra Club Media Team
On July 27, nearly a decade after Sierra Club volunteers used testing to show high formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers supplied to Gulf Coast residents after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule to protect people from formaldehyde in wood products.
Becky Gillette, a Sierra Club volunteer leader on formaldehyde issues, lived on the Gulf Coast during the devastating hurricanes of 2005. The bayou in her backyard came into her home when Katrina struck.
“When our neighbors got sick in FEMA trailers after the hurricanes, we implemented a citizen-led testing program that showed high formaldehyde levels in nine out of ten FEMA trailers,” said Gillette. “Further testing showed that formaldehyde emissions could be a problem in any type of building that used a lot of pressed wood products. Several of our volunteers testified in different congressional hearings on this issue.”
Becky and her volunteer Sierra Club team knew something had to be done to protect their already-displaced from further stress and health problems. They worked with the Composite Panel Association, which supports the composite wood industry, to advocate for a law passed in 2010 to require the EPA to issue a rule to reduce formaldehyde emissions from pressed wood products.
“While it’s difficult to understand why it took nine years from the time the formaldehyde problems were found in FEMA trailers for the government to take this action, we’re pleased at this progress,” said Gillette. “The safeguard now will require manufacturers to follow what is essentially California Air Resources Board (CARB) formaldehyde standards. This action will level the playing field between multinational manufacturers and American manufacturers who already take steps to reduce formaldehyde emissions to meet CARB standards. The EPA’s new rule makes CARB standards more enforceable. It also sets strong impartiality requirements for the third parties that certify compliance at facilities around the world.”
Lumber Liquidators, the nation’s leading hardwood flooring retailer, was recently exposed for failing CARB standards by selling flooring with extremely high levels of formaldehyde. As Tom Neltner, a Sierra Club volunteer and Chemicals Policy Director for the Environmental Defense Fund wrote, 60 Minutes found, on hidden camera, that the company knowingly did not comply with the CARB standards. Lumber Liquidators flooring products were stamped CARB-compliant but were not, in fact, in compliance. Neltner thinks this public exposure helped raise the importance of the issue of formaldehyde and its negative effects on health.
“The EPA did a great job on the final rule and worked from the proposals from the Sierra Club and other non-government organizations to craft a rule that protects public health and minimizes burden on small business,” said Neltner. “It’s good to see us reach this major milestone.”
For more information, see toxictrailers.com.