UPDATE: Lumber Liquidators settles Chinese laminate issues with U.S. regulators
Canadian class action lawsuit still in process
By John Bleasby
It would seem that Lumber Liquidators is slowly skating away from the formaldehyde scandal concerning their Chinese-sourced laminate flooring that rocked consumer confidence, shattered the company’s stock price, and booted senior executives out the door. Exposed on CBS’ 60 Minutes last spring, the U.S. building supply giant was found selling flooring that, according to tests conducted by show producers, far exceeded American regulatory guidelines and violated consumer protection labeling regulations.
Lumber Liquidators has outlets in Canada, and some of that Chinese flooring crept in Canada and into the homes of Canadian homeowners. A class action lawsuit in this country ensued, but no government inquiries or action have been reported.
Canada lacks consumer protection specific to formaldehyde issues
Sadly, Canada does not have regulatory safe guards to protect consumers against this type of problem and no agency to go after Lumber Liquidators on the same basis as the U.S.. As published in Canadian Contractor on-line last August “In terms of building products, Health Canada currently only publishes 7 non-numeric ratings from ‘Very Positive’ to ‘Very Negative’ for materials like Parallam, I-Joists, and OSB etc.. No ratings exist for hard flooring materials. And although the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is reportedly developing specific standards for composite wood products, up to now Health Canada has required only ‘voluntary’ adherence to previous standards established via industry-ministry consensus.”
As a result, recent news from the United States will have virtually no impact in Canada. The company paid $2.5 million US in regulatory fines and, according to the Lumber Liquidators web site, “reached an agreement with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), resolving the Commission’s investigation into certain laminate flooring products that Lumber Liquidators had sourced from China.” The company will continue its “indoor air quality testing program” started in May 2015.
What this means is that U.S. consumers who purchased Chinese-sourced laminate products between February 2012 and May 2015 may request a free air quality test kit that allows those concerned about their laminate floors to determine if they in fact have elevated formaldehyde levels in their homes.
“If a test kit shows indoor formaldehyde levels above the WHO guideline, we will arrange for testing of the specific floors from your home,” the company continues. “Based on these test results, we will work with consumers to reduce the formaldehyde emissions levels and improve the indoor air quality of the home. All testing and remedial measures will be free to customers.”
Tests fail to prove extreme formaldehyde levels
However, the company is quick to point out that “since we began our testing program, we have tested the air quality in more than 17,000 homes. Based on the test results, we retained third-party certified laboratories to conduct formaldehyde emissions tests for about 1,300 of those consumers’ floors. None of those floors has tested above the CPSC’s guideline emission level.”
Furthermore, the company cautions against pulling up any laminate flooring, as that might release formaldehyde in the material that otherwise might be dormant. Formaldehyde does dissipate over time, therefore the longer the issue remains unsettled in Canada, the less likely formaldehyde will ever be measured in any Canadian homes containing the suspect flooring.
No joy for Canadian consumers
The bottom line result for Canadians is…nothing much. Jeff Orenstein, founder and counsel for the Consumer Law Group, an Ottawa-based law practice leading the Canadian class action law suit, told Canadian Contractor recently that Canadian names are still being added to the list of customers wishing to join the class action. He also suggested that settlements with U.S. regulatory bodies are often seen as a first step towards consumer settlements. “That is good news. That often comes first, but I’m not sure how that’s going to trickle down to the class action.”
However, without any Canadian regulatory bodies taking Lumber Liquidators to task on the Chinese laminate flooring issue, the class action seems to be the only hope of restitution for Canadian consumers.
In fact, businessfinancenews.com reported that Lumber Liquidators in the U.S. “won a tentative court ruling dismissing a lawsuit” and has now successfully avoided a full product recall in the U.S. “because CPSC’s investigation of the flooring did not discover unsafe levels of formaldehyde, which back the results of a testing program the company instituted last year.”
As part of the U.S. settlements, Lumber Liquidators has agreed not to resume sales of the Chinese laminate flooring. As reported last year in Canadian Contractor, inventories of the Chinese laminate have since been removed from the stores’ inventories across the country.
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