Canadian Contractor

Lumber Liquidators’ formaldehyde problems land in Canada (Part 2)

A Canadian class action law suit regarding formaldehyde levels in Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese laminate flooring raises the question: Who is at risk?


August 28, 2015
By John Bleasby

How is the level of formaldehyde risk determined?
Formaldehyde is all around us, a common component of manufacturing. It is therefore emitted from everyday materials such as MDF, OSB, and particle board, even some carpets, drapes, varnishes and paints. In other words, it’s in the air we breathe in our homes, the result of what Health Canada terms ‘off-gassing’. While Lumber Liquidators has offered home testing kits for past customers who request one, these only test the air; they do not measure formaldehyde levels in specific materials. Complicating this is the fact that poor ventilation and higher-than-normal heat and/or humidity settings can increase readings. In other words, without specific lab tests of samples, it is very hard and very expensive to pinpoint the source of a high formaldehyde reading.

Installer, vendor or final customer? Who carries the legal risk concerning formaldehyde levels in low-cost laminate flooring?

Installer, vendor or final customer? Who carries the legal risk concerning formaldehyde levels in low-cost laminate flooring?

Who is at risk?
Certain low-cost laminate flooring styles from Lumber Liquidators manufactured in China prior to March 2015 may pose a health issue for homeowners and a potential liability issue for installers and contractors.

Are contractors and installers at a health or liability risk from past purchases and installations?
Stay calm: this may not be anything to lose sleep over. According the EPA, “Formaldehyde emissions are highest when products are new and diminish over time, so the longer a product has been in place, the lower the levels of formaldehyde likely to be emitted.” Furthermore, the class action lawsuits being considered focus on the alleged misrepresentation and/or false advertising by Lumber Liquidators, not actual ‘causation’.

So, ask yourself these questions:
1: Did you purchase Chinese laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators prior to March 2015?
2: Who purchased or selected the product: You, or your customer?
3: Have you been contacted concerning symptoms of high formaldehyde levels?

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How can contractors and installers protect themselves in the future?
Given that Canadian standards significantly lag those elsewhere, you need to take some steps to protect yourself from potential health and liability issues, as suggested by Health Canada and summarised here:
1: Research and review carefully the manufacturing processes and sources of any potential flooring choices with customers prior to purchase.
2: Create a paper trail at the time of purchase. For example; ask for accredited safety documentation from the vendor and keep a copy of any labels detailing product safety.

Hardwood is an increasingly popular flooring choice. Low-priced, faux-hardwood alternatives such as laminates and engineered composites will likely remain popular for those who cannot afford the solid version. This issue will have ‘legs’. It is only a matter of time, hopefully, before Health Canada sets specific acceptable levels of formaldehyde content. In the meantime, reputable Canadian importers and vendors will likely ride the coattails of American and European safety standards in order to assure their customers. Be on the lookout.

Did you miss Part 1 of this story?

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