Lumber Liquidators, North America’s largest and fastest-growing seller of wood flooring, may be polluting hundreds of thousands of homes with Chinese-made laminate flooring containing dangerous levels of formaldehyde, a toxin linked to cancer and numerous other illnesses, according to investigations and independent lab tests conducted by CBS 60 Minutes and Global Community Monitor, a nonprofit pollution watchdog group.
For several months, consumers have been complaining about health problems they claim began after installing laminate flooring made by Lumber Liquidators in their homes. These problems range from mild and chronic respiratory distress, irritation of the eye, nose, and throat, and asthma. Independent testing and undercover talks with mills in China that manufacture flooring for Lumber Liquidators substantiate those complaints.
According to 60 Minutes, Global Community Monitor bought 150 boxes of laminate flooring from different retailers throughout California and tested them. Results showed that laminate flooring from Home Depot and Lowe’s had formaldehyde levels within the legal range, as did American-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators. However, “every single sample of Chinese-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators failed to meet California formaldehyde emissions standards. Many by a large margin,” CBS reported.
Levels of the toxin were so high in some samples that lab workers thought their equipment may be broken. “The average level in Lumber Liquidators products that we found was over six to seven times above the state standard for formaldehyde,” Global Community Monitor executive director Denny Larson told CBS. “And we found some that were close to 20 times above the level that’s allowed to be sold.’
Exposure to those levels of formaldehyde can lead to more severe health problems over time. People who live and sleep in homes with this toxic laminate flooring are at risk of developing myeloid leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. Formaldehyde is a particular danger to children because of their undeveloped immune systems, and laminate flooring is a genuine threat to toddlers and other children who crawl on the floor closer to the formaldehyde vapors.
The safe formaldehyde level for consumer products was first set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and Congress adopted this standard when it passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act in 2010. The federal standard will take effect across the country later this year.
Every box of laminate flooring Lumber Liquidators sells carries the a label stating that it is CARB Phase 2 compliant, including Chinese-made laminate flooring with radically high levels of formaldehyde, CBS reports. Testing on various samples of the imported laminate bought from Lumber Liquidators outlets in a number of states found that every sample but one was non-compliant with the standard.
Investigating further, CBS went to the three mills in China that produce laminate flooring for Lumber Liquidator. Posing undercover as buyers, they found “Employees at the mills openly admitted that they use core boards with higher levels of formaldehyde to make Lumber Liquidators laminates, saving the company 10-15 percent on the price. At all three mills they also admitted falsely labeling the company’s laminate flooring as CARB 2, meaning it meets California formaldehyde emissions standards, and the new U.S. federal law.”
One mill manager told CBS “We can make CARB 2 but it would be very expensive.”