The unlawfully-postponed standards limit the amount of hazardous formaldehyde gas that can be released from various types of wood products, including materials often used in emergency housing and inexpensive furniture.
Congress passed in 2009—and President Barack Obama signed in 2010—a law requiring the EPA to issue a final rule by 2013, limiting formaldehyde emissions from certain wood products, but EPA missed the deadline. Although EPA finally published the formaldehyde standards in December 2016, with compliance required one year later, the Trump administration recently extended the compliance deadlines by one additional year.
Today’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. It charges that the EPA’s extension oversteps the agency’s authority and is illegal.
Formaldehyde is used to bind plywood, particleboard and other wood products used in a wide array of consumer products, such as paneling, flooring, cabinets, furniture and recreational vehicles (RVs). It is a carcinogen that also causes or exacerbates respiratory ailments, and was blamed for numerous illnesses among Gulf Coast residents housed in travel trailers and mobile homes supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
“It is outrageous that people recovering from this year’s hurricanes might have to deal with the same health issues in their emergency housing that the EPA has known about—and was supposed to address—years ago,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. “It is long past time to put an end to cheap, imported wood products that needlessly make people sick.”
Members of Louisiana’s A Community Voice have witnessed these health problems firsthand.
“Formaldehyde is so dangerous for our health that A Community Voice is fighting to have it regulated more, not less,” said Debra Campbell, A Community Voice secretary-treasurer. “We believe that many of us have had harms to our health due to living in FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina, including my own mother’s suffering from COPD. We need more regulation of toxins, not less. Thankfully, Earthjustice is on the case.”
The Sierra Club has been involved with this issue for a decade, in dialogue with such groups as the Composite Panel Association and the nonprofit National Center for Healthy Housing to make California’s tough, state formaldehyde standards the federal requirement.
“It is completely unacceptable that the EPA is attempting to delay this lifesaving, commonsense rule that will protect families’ health and safety and create jobs here at home,” said Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program. “The very last thing people who are recovering from natural disasters should have to worry about is whether their housing is making them sick.”
It is critical that the EPA no longer be allowed to drag its feet and continue to allow the use of dangerous wood products that harm people’s health.