Question

The formaldehyde level in my condo tested at an elevated level. Could 6-8 year old laminate flooring cause this?

Asked by Carl
Birmingham, AL

I recently bought an older condo that has laminate flooring throughout. Something in the condo was making me ill, so I had it tested for formaldehyde. The formaldehyde level came back elevated (65 ng well above the acceptable level of 20 ng.) The laminate flooring is about 6-8 years old. Do you think that is what is causing the high level of formaldehyde? How long does laminate continue to offgas formaldehyde. Thanks.

Answer

Kirsten Flynn

Answered by Kirsten Flynn

Palo Alto, CA

Sustainable Home

February 18, 2013

Dear Carl,

This is a challenging question, because it is hard to find point sources of formaldehyde.

My understanding is that laminate wood products off-gas for about 10 years. The levels coming from the flooring should be decreasing during that period, as the formaldehyde is emitted from the glues into the atmosphere and dissipates from the indoor space through air changes with outdoor air. You are more than halfway through that period, and I would not expect that the laminate flooring alone would still be responsible for such elevated levels of VOCs.

  • Although they might be a component, it is important to look to see if other sources might be part of the explanation.
  • I think that your goal should be to try and minimize all possible sources, and then attempt to get your indoor air as clean as possible.

New furniture or cabinets?

Did you buy new furniture as part of this move? Unless it is specifically made entirely of hardwood, new furniture contains wood products that can emit formaldehyde, such as particle board or plywood. Even hardwood dressers often have these products as the backing board on the back of the piece, or as dividers between the drawers. This is true in all quality levels of furniture, but the more reasonably priced the item, the more likely it is to to have particle wood products.

If you think this might be a component of your problem, you can use a clear sealer to minimize the formaldehyde that is escaping from your furniture piece into the indoor air. AFM (American Formulating and Manufacturing) makes clear sealer products that are designed to be very low VOC and safe in use.

Another source of formaldehyde might be the kitchen or bathroom cabinetry, if either of them are new. All kitchen cabinets are made with MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) or plywood. Unless specified otherwise these products have formaldehyde in their glues. As with the furniture above, these can be sealed, and in fact the question of sealing furniture and cabinets has been covered very lucidly here on Green Home Guide.

Unfortunately getting a good seal on all surfaces of a piece of furniture or a cabinet is a challenge. The formaldehyde is emitted most readily from the cut edges of boards, which are in the corner joints. Do the best you can to seal the cracks, and know that you will be minimizing you exposure, if not eliminating them.

Once you have sealed these two possible sources, see if your symptoms are reduced, and have the levels re-tested, if you can.

Get an air cleaner

Additionally, I would strongly suggest that you get a good quality air cleaner, one that eliminates VOC gases as well as particulate matter.

Do not use an ozone generator or an electrostatic air cleaner that creates ozone as a by-product. Ozone is an airway irritant, and if you are already having problems from exposure to formaldehyde, you do not want to add another health concern to your home.

I like Austin Air, but Consumer Reports rates air purifiers on a regular basis.

Eliminate other sources

Finally, do the best you can to eliminate other sources of poor air quality.

  • Vacuum often with a HEPA filter.
  • Get rid of any strong cleaners that you might have under your sink.
  • Minimize the use of products that contain perfumes.

Often when you are already irritated and sick, you might not be able to tolerate exposures that previously did not affect you.

Good luck with your new condo.

Tagged In: home air quality

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