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Over the last couple weeks, the word “formaldehyde” has surprisingly climbed several notches on the “things Americans are worried about” ladder. This is the result of some trouble the company Lumber Liquidators has found itself in. The company, one of the country’s largest flooring retailers with over 300 locations, allegedly has been skimping on America’s health and safety regulations in regards to the manufacturing and selling of flooring materials. Specifically laminated floors in this case.

In short, to sell flooring materials in California the floors have to pass a set of standards created by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). And later this year the rest of the country will follow suit after Congress passed legislation to federally standardize the regulations placed on flooring materials, modeled after California’s standards. Part of these regulations deal with the amount of formaldehyde, a chemical commonly found in adhesives in plywoods and fiberboard, a floor can have. The formaldehyde in these floors dissipate into the air and herein lies the problem. The floors Lumber Liquidators were selling allegedly had excessive levels of formaldehyde in them, which can cause some pretty big issues.

Formaldehyde is a chemical compound that is found in many organically and synthetically produced materials. It is perhaps best known for being used in the preservation of animals and bodies in the embalming process. Formaldehyde is very toxic to humans and is classified as a “known carcinogen” by the US National Toxicology Program. A carcinogen is any material that can cause cancer after exposure.

So here is the problem with having too much of it in your floors; formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature. Presumably your floors are inside your house, which is at room temperature. This means that your floors are leaking gaseous formaldehyde into your home. This is normal for all floors, however, the floors from Lumber Liquidators’ mills in China contained far too much formaldehyde to evaporate at a safe level. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can cause a variety of severe health issues, most notably cancer of the nasal passage and leukemia. Groups like the CARB work with scientists to ensure the levels of formaldehyde in your floors never reach levels that are actually dangerous to humans, however, the floors Lumber Liquidators have been selling circumvented CARB’s standards.

In the 60 Minutes piece that broke this story, investigators with hidden cameras pretending to be buyers visit the mills in China that Lumber Liquidators use. Inside, an investigator asks a plant manager if the floor he’s looking at is CARB approved, to which the manager candidly replies ‘no’. When asked why they’re knowingly producing potentially dangerous products, the manager again candidly explains that they could produce CARB-approved materials if they wanted, but doing so would rise the cost of the product. In order to keep their prices low, the mill uses cheap, unsafe material and simply places a CARB-approved label on the finished product. According to the report, Lumber Liquidators saved anywhere from 10-15% on their sales as a result of this practice used by the Chinese mills.

There will be updates as the story progresses. It’s unclear if Lumber Liquidators even knew about their Chinese mills’ practice of lying about their products safety. But the moral of the story is that floors aren’t your typical shopping item. They’re not clothes and they’re not grocery items. They’re a part of your home and they’re installed by construction specialists. They are going to cost a considerable amount of money, whether you buy a cheaper floor or an expensive one. So know what you’re buying before you buy it. Ask yourself “why is this floor so much cheaper than everyone else’s floors?” Because not everyone is an expert on formaldehyde.

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