Tests show flooring from Lumber Liquidators contains hazardous levels of formaldehyde

July 24, 2014

Products from Chinese factories emit toxic gas in excess of 100 times California standards

In the latest environmental black eye for Lumber Liquidators, independent lab tests show that Chinese-made flooring sold by the chain emits formaldehyde at levels far above the level requiring cancer warnings under California law, according to a lawsuit filed today by Global Community Monitor.

Lumber Liquidators, claims on its website that all of its flooring comes from mills certified as compliant with California’s standards for formaldehyde. Plaintiffs conducted more than 50 tests of Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese-made laminate flooring, using a variety of different testing methods and sample batches. Test results showed average initial formaldehyde exposures over 100 times above the amount allowed to be sold without a warning label under Proposition 65, California’s main toxics law.

Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in the glue used in laminate flooring and other pressed-wood products, including those sold by Lumber Liquidators. During and after installation, it is released as a gas that causes burning eyes, nose and throat irritation, coughing, headaches, dizziness, joint pain, and nausea. At long-term exposure, formaldehyde is listed as a known cause of cancer in humans by both the federal government and the State of California.

Proposition 65 requires products containing chemicals that cause cancer to carry a warning label if the levels exceed the so-called “safe harbor” level. But none of the Lumber Liquidators samples tested had a warning label on the box, none of the stores where samples were purchased had a Proposition 65 warning, and no warnings were provided at the time of purchase over the internet.

“The levels of formaldehyde our tests found in Lumber Liquidators’ laminate flooring are astounding and alarming,” said Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor. “It’s unconscionable that Lumber Liquidators would sell this product to customers to install in their homes without informing families of the potential health risks involved, especially since they make a point of bragging about how environmentally safe it is.”

The Proposition 65 complaint, filed in state superior court in Oakland, says: “Without exception, the Lumber Liquidators products produced in China that Plaintiffs tested emitted formaldehyde at far higher rates than those manufactured in Europe or North America—on average, Chinese products emitted at 350 percent the rate of European/North American products.“

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of international environmental scandals concerning Lumber Liquidators.

  • Last September, U.S. authorities raided Lumber Liquidators' headquarters in Toano, Va., and seized company records to investigate possible violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import of illegally harvested hardwood.
  • A month later, the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency charged that Lumber Liquidators sells timber illegally logged from forests in the Russian Far East.
  • Two months ago, Greenpeace linked Lumber Liquidators to illegal logging in the Amazon.

Lumber Liquidators’ formaldehyde problem came to light a year ago by an article on the blog Seeking Alpha by an investor named Xuhua Zhou, who conducted his own tests in which one sample of Lumber Liquidators engineered wood flooring tested at three and a half times the level allowed under California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards. Global Community Monitor is joined in the lawsuit by Sunshine Park, a firm affiliated with private investment companies that have substantial short financial exposure to Lumber Liquidators. Sunshine Park and its affiliates financed the extensive testing and have conducted substantial on-the-ground investigation regarding Chinese laminate flooring production.

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