Safe Floors: VOC's

January 01, 2018

Safe Floors: VOC's

Indoor air quality, formaldehyde & other VOCs

The importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) gained attention in the 1980s with the identification of “sick building syndrome,” a combination of ailments caused by the off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – chemical compounds that vaporize and enter the atmosphere under normal conditions -- from some types of building materials. Ironically, sick building syndrome emerged as buildings became more airtight and energy-efficient, trapping VOCs and exposing building occupants to them. One of the main VOCs implicated in unhealthy indoor air quality is formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a chemical compound mad up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that is found literally everywhere. For example, it occurs naturally at low levels in bread, trees and the human body. Such formaldehyde is “bound up” in the matter of which it is a part and poses no health risks.

However, formaldehyde can be dangerous when it occurs in gaseous form in high concentrations in an indoor environment where it can be breathed. Gaseous formaldehyde is a common indoor air pollutant and exists at some level of concentration in virtually all homes and buildings. As a gas, it is colorless and strong smelling. It is released into the air from a variety of sources including tobacco smoke, wood burning stoves and fireplaces, and a wide variety of building products – including some types of engineered wood flooring (and other composite wood products) that use adhesives that off-gas formaldehyde.

Reactions to formaldehyde gas vary. Some people have no reaction, while others have severe and potentially life-threatening responses to exposure. The effects of breathing formaldehyde can include nose and throat irritation, a burning sensation in the eyes, wheezing, insomnia, anorexia and loss of libido. Formaldehyde can trigger asthma and sensitive individuals may experience fatigue, headaches and nausea from exposure.

Finally, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen: the International Agency for Research on Cancer reclassified formaldehyde from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans” in 2004.

Generally, there are no observable health effects from formaldehyde when air concentrations are below 1.0 parts per million (ppm). The onset of respiratory irritation and other health effects begins when air concentrations exceed 5.0 ppm.

The state of California established the CARB regulation to reduce public exposure to formaldehyde. It set strict emission performance standards on various types of composite wood products, including most engineered wood flooring. The EPA subsequently extended CARB’s requirements across the country, seeking to ensure that all finished goods sold in the US use composite wood products have been tested and certified as compliant at the mill that makes them.

EPA/CARB Formaldehyde Emission Limits Compared to Regulations in Other Parts of the World


Limit on Formaldehyde Emissions

European E2

Below 3.00 ppm, above 0.1

European E1

Below 0.1 ppm, above 0.07

European E0

Below 0.07 ppm

CARB Phase 1

Below 0.08 ppm

CARB Phase 2

Below 0.05 ppm


Below 0.05 ppm

Outdoor ambient air

About 0.03 ppm


As an added precaution, Monarch Plank independently tests samples of our imported products in an American lab to verify ongoing EPA/CARB compliance.

Many of the Monarch Plank collections, are also FloorScore certified. The FloorScore program provides expanded assurance for people concerned about IAQ. To get certified under the FloorScore standard, products are tested by independent labs which verify that they meet emission limits for 35 individual VOCs (including formaldehyde) specified by the California Standard Method for VOC Emissions Testing and Evaluation Standard Method V1.2, otherwise known as CA Section 01350.

For more information [LINK to IAQ/CARB page]

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