Info & News
Written by: Anthony Sarafa
This article is about floorboards consisting of high density fiberboard (HDF) in their core. High-density fiberboard in most cases uses urea formaldehyde as the binder to hold the wood particles together.
I built a new home and planned to put in a hardwood floor. Having a healthy home is very important to me. Building materials should all be safe. At the time I built my home, I thought I was reasonably well-educated about the safety of building materials. I was wrong.
I even installed wired ethernet Internet access to all rooms in my house to avoid any electromagnetic radiation in the house. This is how important it is for me to have a healthy home.
One of the main reasons I wanted a hardwood floor is because I did not want carpet which I do not think is a healthy material. It is a magnet for dust, and the materials used in many carpets are not healthy, unless the carpet uses a completely natural material like wool. For example, heating up a typical carpet by using underfloor heating, will cause toxic emissions from the carpet.
In my Auckland home I had an engineered hardwood oak floor and to my knowledge it was a safe floor. I did not notice any health effects from it. It was a typical engineered floor consisting of solid hardwood on the top and 2 pine layers underneath.
This article is not about floorboards which had a subtle level of toxicity which could affect certain people or others over long periods of time rather a high level of toxicity where it would affect anyone exposed to it over a period of days.
In my new home, which was completed in August 2014, I had a BrandX hardwood floor installed. The salespeople and marketing information did a good job convincing me it was quality and stable floor. And that it was a Canadian floor!
This is the last mistake I will make. The core of it is high-density fiberboard, and it had a thin hardwood layer on top and a cork back. The health effects of it, never crossed my mind and the marketing information clearly indicates there are no detrimental health effects from it.
The manufacturer claimed that one can "Breathe Easy" with their floors and there are no harmful volatile organic compound emissions and that the floor is "formaldehyde free". They also state that their floorboards are compliant with California Air Resources Board phase 2 (CARB 2) Composite Wood Products Regulation. All of this turned out to be blatantly false with the particular floorboards supplied to me.
After the installation was done, I noticed numerous defects with the floor including significant looseness, tapping and creaking sounds over 80% of the surface area. I was quite displeased and realized that this was a very low quality and defective product as well. Examination of the floorboard shows they were bowed by about 30 mm on average.
After I moved into the house and lived there about 12 days, I began to have symptoms which includes irritation in my nostrils, throat, and throughout my entire respiratory system. I also had mild headaches, difficulty with thinking and felt disoriented at times. I found it difficult to even do my work.
These symptoms were ongoing and getting worse. When I was away from the home for an entire day, I began to feel better. When I came back to the house, immediately the symptoms began to come back.
I did recognize that it was the hardwood floor causing the problem because it had a very obvious chemical odor to it. The problem was getting worse and I was becoming very concerned about it. I contacted an environmental scientist to do testing of the air in the house.
Before the testing was started, the floor was removed from my home everywhere except one room left for testing. When the floor came out, I felt I could breathe much better and the air felt dramatically cleaner. It was at that time I realized how badly the floor was affecting the air quality in the house.
The floor had a very noticeable chemical odor, which quickly cleared after the floor was removed. This floor is not acceptable in any home or business at all. This was such an awful experience I would not wish this upon anyone. I always think about what if I had a baby in the house, or what if I had a dog breathing in the air.
The environmental scientist tested for formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds. The actual laboratory testing was performed by Hill Labs in Hamilton.
This is not merely a smell that goes away after a couple of days. This was a toxic chemical emission which would be persistent even when the windows were open. Even a month later when we began to remove the floor, the toxic chemical odor was just as strong.
The builder who removed the floor, also developed an irritation in the back of his throat which persisted for about two weeks. This is additional confirmation that my symptoms were not merely some sensitivity that I had.
Gradually since the floor was removed, over a period of two weeks the irritation in my nostrils and lungs, diminished and the symptoms were no longer noticeable after about a month. The neurologic symptoms went away nearly immediately. However, I continued to have an irritation in my throat that was never present at any time in my life, and was coughing. Sometimes I would be coughing every few seconds throughout the day. As I said, I have never had any kind of condition like this at any time in my life. My respiratory system was perfectly fine before this incident. Gradually over the next few months I recovered. The toxicologist indicated that these persistent symptoms were the result of chronic formaldehyde exposure causing damage to my respiratory tract.
There is no way anyone could live in my new home with that toxic floor. Once I began to notice the symptoms, I slept in the garage and then later in the bathroom where there was no floor.
The scientific testing indicated that the particular volatile organic compounds that the floor was emitting were formaldehyde, acetone and hexanal.
I performed my own testing of the floorboards in a glass tank to confirm these chemicals. The video is here>
I concluded that this could not be an isolated case. I have very diligently been working on this case. I have gathered evidence, conducted research into formaldehyde, made many videos posted to my YouTube channel, and worked on getting media attention. This has taken a lot of my time and money but it is very important to me for the health and well-being of others.
During my research what I discovered is that the floor was actually made in China! I had no idea. I thought it was a quality Canadian product.
I found out that this very same problem, floorboards from China with high levels of formaldehyde, has been going on in the United States. These floorboards were sold by Lumber Liquidators. There are many current lawsuits related to this.
CBS News 60 Minutes aired on March 1, 2015 a story on this subject. The subject was high levels of formaldehyde in laminate flooring made in China sold by Lumber Liquidators. 60 Minutes went to the factories in China where the floorboards were being made and the Chinese admitted that the floorboards do not comply with formaldehyde regulations:
60 Mintues Video About Lumber Liquidators
The Chinese factories were labeling HDF floorboards with high levels of formaldehyde as being compliant with California Air Resources Board phase 2 (CARB 2) Composite Wood Products Regulation when they actually had formaldehyde levels as much as 20 times higher!
This problem with noncompliant high-density fiberboard affects the industry. Reference:
A Hardwood Flooring Insider Take On Lumber Liquidators
This problem affected the particular floorboards I got from BrandX since they had them made in China. I do not think other products from this supplier which are not made in China would be affected by this problem.
Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The purpose of this article is to create awareness of this kind of problem and to bring about change. Consumers should avoid products with formaldehyde as much as reasonably possible. It is important not to be convinced when a supplier or manufacturer belittles the dangers of formaldehyde. This is a dangerous chemical. I have direct experience of the dangers of it when it is breathed in at elevated levels. The health and well-being of people is what is most important.
There are many formaldehyde regulations which exist. There are the European E0 and E1 regulations. E0 has a lower emission rating. And the CARB 2 regulation. It is not the purpose of this article to go into the specifics of these regulations as there are certain test procedures to determine an emission rating from MDF (Medium density fiberboard) and HDF.
Reducing formaldehyde in a home is important. Formaldehyde can significantly affect the occupants of the home and especially affects people with asthma and can even cause asthma in children. Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formaldehyde
I would definitely recommend avoiding floorboards with MDF or HDF. And try to avoid flooring with any urea formaldehyde in it, if possible. Although many of the better engineered hardwood floors still do use urea formaldehyde.
Even if someone does not notice symptoms from formaldehyde, but they are breathing in lower levels of formaldehyde this can have a long-term effect. Does the supplier of a building material get your consent before supplying you something which is toxic and affecting your health?
Suppliers should be honest about the toxic chemical content in the products they provide if the chemical content is something more than just incidental. For pressed wood products formaldehyde is a lot more than incidental. This should not be something hidden but made clear in marketing information.
After this experience, I obtained material safety data sheets on many of the building materials in my home and I was surprised with what I found. In some cases a building product may contain formaldehyde but that is not clearly indicated.
Many building materials in homes contain formaldehyde. Plywood, particleboard, medium density fiberboard, and high-density fiberboard, are all urea formaldehyde containing products. There are some alternatives to urea formaldehyde which are used, but there are safety questions about those alternatives as well. For more information, refer to:ALTERNATIVE RESIN BINDERS FOR PARTICLEBOARD, MDF & WHEATBOARD
This looks like an interesting alternative to urea formaldehyde but I do not know the specifics of it:
Final Report: Commercialization of a Formaldehyde-free Soy-based Adhesive for Production of Plywood
This also looks interesting as a non-toxic alternative:
The First Non-Toxic Commercially Viable Fiber Board
If a particular wood product you plan to use contains urea formaldehyde, and this may require research, then insist on using an E0 rated version of it.
Typical fiberglass batts insulation contains formaldehyde in the resin that is used to glue the fibers together. Doors are a source of formaldehyde in the medium density fiberboard they use on the panels on the front and back of the door.
Should you be very concerned about the use of building products within your home which use formaldehyde? I would say not to an extreme, however find reasonable alternatives when they are available and keep the products that do have formaldehyde, to an absolute minimum. For example, there is formaldehyde free insulation available and consider solid wood for cabinetry.
If you would like to contact me about this article I can be reached at [email protected]
References supporting claims made in this article: