Last year, 60 Minutes aired an episode revealing that Lumber Liquidators — which sells hardwood and laminate flooring throughout North America — was exposing its customers to toxic levels of formaldehyde, a chemical that’s associated with cancer and other health problems. The company’s laminate flooring, which was cheaper than its other products (and advertised as having an especially low price), was being produced in China without proper regulations. Tests later completed by scientists found that the formaldehyde levels in the flooring exceeded standard limits.
After the news broke, Lumber Liquidators saw a significant drop in its sales, but it wasn't until a year later that the CDC released a report that stated the increased cancer risk from exposure to the flooring was "low," and not significant enough to be considered a danger. Once again, the company’s stock went up.
Now, the CDC has released a revised statement noting that their calculations were inaccurate and the risk is much higher than previously believed. The statement explains that the CDC’s indoor air model originally “used an incorrect value for ceiling height,” leading them to miscalculate health risks “about 3 times lower than they should have been.”
“Health risks of people who have the laminate flooring are being revised to reflect greater exposure to formaldehyde, which could cause eye, nose, and throat irritation for anyone,” the CDC states in the new release. “The estimated risk of cancer associated with exposure to the flooring increased.”
It turns out that exposure to even low levels of formaldehyde found in this laminate flooring can lead to an increased risk of asthma symptoms and other respiratory problems, as well as eye, nose, and throat irritation. In addition, the risk of cancer (which was originally reported to be 2-9 cases per 100,000 people) ended up being closer to 6-30 cases per 100,000 people.
Formaldehyde is a common chemical found in household items, pressed-wood products like paneling and plywood, and even food packaging. The chemical is referred to as a form of indoor air pollution, often sneaking its way into our bodies through unexpected sources. In 2010, President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act into law, which established limits for the amount of formaldehyde allowed in wood products.
According to 60 Minutes, laminate flooring that had more formaldehyde in it was considerably cheaper to produce for Lumber Liquidators; and a lack of regulations in China seemed to allow them to slip through the cracks. Though the company still placed a label on the products stating that it complied with regulations, when 60 Minutes sent samples of the laminate wood to labs, scientists found that the majority of them did not comply with formaldehyde standards.
The CDC notes that to lower your risk of exposure to formaldehyde, keep your house filled with fresh outdoor air, avoid smoking (as formaldehyde is found in cigarettes), and keep the temperature at a comfortably low level to avoid too much heat or mold.