Composite panel industry well-positioned to adapt to final formaldehyde ruling

Work by manufacturers that began decades ago pays off

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July finalized a rule intended to reduce exposure to formaldehyde vapors from certain wood products produced domestically or imported into the United States.

The Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directed EPA to finalize a rule on implementing and enforcing a number of provisions covering composite wood products.

In a two-part series for Surface & Panel, Composite Panel Association President Jackson Morrill responds to the ruling. In this first part, MorrilI answers questions from S&P regarding initial reactions from the composite panel industry and its role in securing the regulation. In Part 2 in S&P’s first-quarter edition of 2017, Morrill will focus on the implications of the rule for the design/specifier community. 

Q: What was your initial reaction to the EPA's regulation?

A: I was actually very pleased that EPA had finally released it, even if it was only a prepublication version. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the final version to be published in the Federal Register, but we understand it is imminent. The North American composite wood industry has been a staunch advocate since this process began in June 2010 for EPA to complete the rule and expand California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) strict formaldehyde emissions limits to the entire U.S. We firmly believe it is critical to have this regulation in place so that EPA can begin enforcing its requirements on a national scale and ensure a level regulatory playing field for all products, whether made in the U.S. or imported.

Q: CPA has been working with the EPA on this issue for years. How did CPA's work on behalf of its members affect the final ruling?

A: In fact, the composite wood industry has been at this for well over 30 years. North American manufacturers developed and implemented voluntary emissions standards in the 1980s and since that time have worked with resin suppliers to collaborate and develop innovative, proven resin technologies that have brought emissions down to at or near naturally occurring levels in wood.

Work on the EPA regulation began in earnest soon after completion of the CARB regulation in 2008. We partnered with the Sierra Club, American Academy of Pediatrics, United Steel Workers and a number of industry and other environmental stakeholders to urge the introduction and passage of bipartisan federal legislation requiring compliance with the CARB emission limits nationwide. The final statute, now known as Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act, was absolutely critical in specifying that EPA must issue a regulation that aligned with CARB on many of the most central elements of the regulation, such as emission limits, test methods and certification processes. More than anything, working with that diverse stakeholder group to secure those provisions in Title VI had the greatest impact on the outcome of the final regulation.

When EPA issued its initial draft regulation for comment on June 10, 2013, CPA again took the lead role in coordinating with a number of stakeholders to comment on the rule. CPA was an active participant in all public comment opportunities and met several times with EPA leadership to convey specific concerns. Ultimately, I believe these efforts paid off, in that the regulation appears to have been largely accepted by both composite panel manufacturers and their customers, who also have to abide by these regulations.

Q: The ruling in most ways mirrors CARB 2 requirements. Explain why that's a good thing for the composite panel industry.

A: Since the publication of the CARB regulation in 2008, North American manufacturers have voluntarily complied with CARB’s emission limits for all production, whether destined for sale in California or elsewhere. They have made significant investments in technology upgrades to manufacturing processes and third-party verification systems to ensure their products are compliant. As a result of these significant efforts to meet the CARB 2 limits, North American manufacturers are ready to hit the ground running as EPA adopts a very similar approach. I would also note that this is great news for consumers, who can trust that when they buy products made with North American composite wood panels, they’ll be getting compliant products as advertised that meet these extremely low emissions limits.

Q: What specific aspects were you most worried about before the ruling and what is your reaction to how they were addressed in the ruling?

A: As I noted before, many of the key elements of the regulation were prescribed by Title VI, so we did not have to focus on critical issues such as emissions limits and testing protocols. There were some provisions in the draft regulation that were particularly important to the industry, such as product labeling and the process for managing non-complying lots, that we did comment on. Fortunately, EPA appears to have incorporated much of what we advocated for in these areas, although there are some provisions that will require clarification.

Q: What will be the most challenging aspect of the ruling to comply with for manufacturers and distributors of composite materials?

A: Our biggest challenge will be if EPA fails to adequately enforce the regulation for imports. When certain manufacturers can make product overseas with cheaper, non-compliant board and then import that product into the U.S. without fear of regulatory enforcement, our industry is at a significant competitive disadvantage. Not only is U.S. industry harmed, but then so, too, is the U.S. consumer. CPA has had an ongoing dialogue with EPA on this issue, and those efforts will continue in earnest when the final rule is published.

Q: What's the most important takeaway for the composite panel industry?

A: I think the most important takeaway is that North American manufacturers should be very well-positioned to seamlessly move into compliance when the regulation takes effect one year after publication in the Federal Register. This should bring great comfort to specifiers and designers, who can have confidence to source products made with compliant North American composite wood. CPA was able to secure this outcome because it worked with a wide range of stakeholders – including environmental and labor groups - to have the CARB 2 approach enshrined into national law, which was passed in bipartisan fashion at a time when very few bills passed through Congress. It is a testament to the benefits of proactive advocacy that is forward looking and seeks to do the right thing.

Coming in Q1 2017: The implications of the rule for the design/specifier community.

 

“I would also note that this is great news for consumers, who can trust that when they buy products made with North American composite wood panels, they’ll be getting compliant products as advertised that meet these extremely low emissions limits.”

Jackson Morrill, Composite Panel Association President