Regulatory Developments

EPA Seeks Clarity and CARB Alignment with New Formaldehyde Proposal

Responding to requests from manufacturers and Third-Party Certifiers (TPCs) for additional regulatory clarity, the EPA is proposing a suite of technical amendments to its regulations to control formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. According to the Agency, the proposal would streamline certain required testing and certification provisions required in its final rule (December 13, 2016, Federal Register (FR)).

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Much of the proposal is also intended to further align the federal requirements with the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Airborne Toxic Control Measures (ATCM) Phase II program, which established formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products (including hardwood plywood, hardwood plywood veneer core, hardwood plywood composite core, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard). The 2010 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Title VI directed the EPA to establish formaldehyde emissions standards for these products that are identical to the CARB limits. Title VI set the statutory emissions standards for formaldehyde, which the EPA is not authorized to change. However, the final rule contains many implementing provisions affecting areas such as testing, product labeling, chain of custody documentation, product inventory, TPCs, recordkeeping, and enforcement; all of these are subject to revision by the Agency.

According to the EPA, the proposed amendments grew in part from a June 2018 public meeting in which the Agency presented 11 technical issues and provided attendees the opportunity to comment on each issue and raise any additional issues.

Correlation and Equivalence Simplified

The proposed major amendments are as follows:

  • Remove annual correlations between the TPC’s chamber and the mill quality control chamber. The CARB program requires an initial correlation and additional correlation only on an as-needed basis.
  • Allow equivalence on like-size or similar model chambers at the TPC lab and mill. Similar model chambers would be those that are manufactured by the same manufacturer and bear the same model number or bear a model number that succeeds a previous model number that has been discontinued or otherwise is no longer being manufactured but would be deemed the equivalent by the manufacturer.
  • Average emissions test results from quarterly testing. CARB’s approved method for test results averaging accounts for formaldehyde emissions variability across any one composite wood product panel while ensuring the products still meet the applicable emissions standards.
  • Establish testing emissions ranges. The EPA is proposing to align with CARB’s ATCM and their requirement for 10 comparison tests, consisting of 5 comparison tests in 2 of the 3 specified ranges, with a modification to the emissions ranges and a modification to the requirement for demonstration.
  • Allow equivalence only if the mill uses a TPC to conduct all testing. The EPA is proposing to clarify that mills that do not perform any testing on-site at the mill and instead use their TSCA Title VI TPC for all quarterly and quality control testing would not be required to establish correlation.

Other proposed amendments would update correlational coefficients and “r” value alternatives; update the notification of exceedance of quality control limits; update no-added formaldehyde (NAF) and ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) exemption testing requirements; update the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17025-2017 and 17011-2017 voluntary consensus standards; update text in the noncomplying lot provisions; clarify that labels on compliant products are required at point of entry in the United States; and clarify the June 1, 2018, manufactured-by date following the court ruling in 2017.

The EPA’s proposal was published in the November 1, 2018, FR.