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Formaldehyde

There has been an increased interest recently in formaldehyde, among many WDMA members. In large part this renewed interest has been prompted by the Proposed Regulation Order, AIRBORNE TOXIC CONTROL MEASURE TO REDUCE FORMALDEHYDE EMISSIONS FROM COMPOSITE WOOD PRODUCTS. This proposal is part of Section 93120, Title 17, California Code of Regulations. The Preliminary Draft was issued on May 1, 2006.

What is formaldehyde (H2CO)? Formaldehyde is a gas with a pungent odor. It is the simplest aldehyde. Formaldehyde readily results from the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing materials. In the atmosphere, formaldehyde is produced by the action of sunlight and oxygen on atmospheric methane and other hydrocarbons. Formaldehyde does occur naturally in fruits and some foods, and it is formed endogenously in mammals, including humans, as a consequence of oxidative metabolism of many xenobiotics. Urea formaldehyde is coming under the most scrutiny.

How is formaldehyde manufactured for industrial use? Formaldehyde is most frequently produced by the catalytic oxidation of methanol. The United States produced 11.3 billion lb in 1998 (ATSDR 1999), and imported another 62 million lb in 2000 (ITA 2001). This production volume places formaldehyde as 25th overall for USchemical production (IARC).

What are the primary uses of formaldehyde? Formaldehyde is primarily used in the manufacture of resins: urea-formaldehyde (23%), phenolic (19%), polyacetal (11%), methylene disocyanate (6%), melamine (4%), and the balance other chemical compounds and applications. The aforementioned resins are used extensively in the manufacturing of some wood composites.

The stated purpose of 93210 "is to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, used, or manufactured for sale in California.” Therefore, fenestration companies that do business in California, with products that have wood composite substrates, that utilize formaldehyde resin systems, could be impacted by this regulation. The "composite wood products” have been defined in three categories: Hardwood Plywood, Particleboard, and Medium Density Fiberboard.

For WDMA members to discern how this regulation could potentially impact their business it is suggested that you review the PRELIMINARY DRAFT that is listed on California Air Resources Board website. WDMA staff is monitoring the activities of this possible precedent setting regulation.

Formaldehyde Council - Formaldehyde Overview - http://www.formaldehyde.org/environment/overview.html

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Based Adhesives

For decades, formaldehyde-based resins and adhesives have been used safely and cost-effectively by millwork producers for two primary applications:

1) Bonding window and door components – i.e. finger jointing, face and edge gluing

2) Binding the composite wood panels (particleboard, etc.) used for door cores or in window moldings

Since the 1980s, resin and adhesive manufacturers, in partnership with composite panel producers, have implemented product stewardship measures aimed at reducing formaldehyde emissions through better resin technologies and improved processing controls. Emissions have been reduced by 80 to 90 percent. Today, emission levels are very low, well below the standards set to protect human health.

Despite the achievements and progress in meeting industry benchmarks, formaldehyde emissions impacting indoor air continue to be aggressively regulated. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently established a new set of product emission control measures, which may impact some WDMA members.

CARB’s two-step process tightens allowable formaldehyde emissions from raw composite wood panels (particleboard, medium density fiberboard and hardwood plywood) and all products constructed out of them (such as flush doors). It does not apply to solid wood products joined with adhesives. Maximum emission levels, certification requirements and enforcement provisions can be found at www.arb.ca.gov.

Low-emitting formaldehyde-based resins and adhesives are currently available to meet the California standards without sacrificing performance, quality or plant production rates.

It should be noted that formaldehyde occurs naturally. Humans, plants, and animals produce it as a normal part of life. Because it is metabolized so quickly and efficiently, formaldehyde does not accumulate in the body. Formaldehyde is normally present at low levels in both outdoor and indoor air. Approximately 70 to 90 percent of the total atmospheric formaldehyde in the world comes from mobile sources (i.e., automobiles), power generation and combustion. Only a relatively small amount is the result of formaldehyde emissions from wood products.

Formaldehyde, whose molecular formula is H2CO2, is a simple organic compound. Its primary uses are as a building block for other chemicals or in wood binders, as discussed above. Formaldehyde is a by-product of the incomplete combustion of carbon-based materials. It can be produced in a controlled, industrial setting by the oxidation of methanol – or anywhere methane is oxidized such as in forest fires, automobile exhaust, in tobacco smoke or in the natural workings of the atmosphere.

Global production of formaldehyde in 2005 was about 24,750 thousand metric tons of 37 percent equivalent. (Formaldehyde is produced commercially by reacting methanol with a silver or metal oxide catalyst. The resulting formaldehyde gas is typically absorbed into water. The 24,750 thousand figure represents the amount of commercially available aqueous solution, with actual formaldehyde being 37 percent of that total.)

(Provided by Hexion Specialty Chemicals, Inc.)

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