The California Air Resources Board, also known as CARB or ARB, is the “clean air agency” in the government of California. Established in 1967 when then-governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford-Carrell Act, combining the Bureau of Air Sanitation and the Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board, CARB is a department within the cabinet-level California Environmental Protection Agency. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is charged with protecting the public from the harmful effects of air pollution and developing programs and actions to fight climate change. From requirements for clean cars and fuels to adopting innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, California has pioneered a range of effective approaches that have set the standard for effective air and climate programs for the nation, and the world.

What are composite wood products?

“Composite wood products” are panels made from pieces, chips, particles, 
or fibers of wood bonded together with a resin. The California Composite Wood Products Regulation 
(CWP Regulation) specifically focuses on three products: hardwood plywood (HWPW), particleboard (PB), and medium density fiberboard (MDF). The regulation also applies to composite wood products used in finished goods such as cabinets, doors, furniture, flooring products, moldings, toys, mirror and photo frames, audio speakers, base boards, shelving, and countertops. The regulation requires finished goods to be made with HWPW, PB, and MDF that comply with the regulatory requirements and to be labeled as such. If you purchase panels or finished goods, you will likely encounter a label on the product(s) that includes phrases such as California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde” or “California Phase 2 Compliant.” Seeing “formaldehyde,” an identified toxic air contaminant, on labels may raise concerns about whether a given product is safe to use or not. Below, we provide answers to commonly asked questions about composite wood products.

What does “California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde” or “California Phase 2 Compliant” mean and why is this label showing up on more products?

The label seen on panels and finished goods indicates that the product meets the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) stringent emission standards for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products, including HWPW, PB, and MDF. The CWP Regulation took effect in 2009, and manufacturers and fabricators of finished goods that use any of these materials are required to use composite wood that meets the formaldehyde emission limits in the CWP Regulation. They are also required to label their products as complying, either on the products or the packaging for the finished goods. Manufacturers typically will label their products as “California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde” or “California Phase 2 Compliant,” although other variations may also be used. California’s CWP Regulation is one of the most stringent regulations in effect to limit formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. As of today, the CWP Regulation is only being implemented in California; other states have not adopted similar regulations. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing a national regulation based on California’s regulation, which is expected to be in effect nationwide by 2014.

What is formaldehyde and what are the health effects of formaldehyde exposure?

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas and is released to the environment from a variety of sources including the combustion of fossil fuels such as gasoline and propane, tobacco smoke, fireplaces, and wood burning stoves. It is also found at low levels in natural wood. It is commonly used to make a variety of products including resins that are used as adhesives in composite wood products. It is also found in many other products, including some furniture coatings, permanent press clothing and linens, wallpaper, carpet products, and personal care products such as nail hardeners. Health effects can include nose and throat irritation, a burning sensation of the eyes, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and can trigger asthma symptoms in those with asthma. Sensitive individuals may experience fatigue, headache, and nausea. Formaldehyde is also a known human carcinogen.

Are labeled products safe for my family?

From a public health standpoint, the CWP Regulation’s emission standards are set at low levels intended to protect public health. The first emission standards (Phase 1) went into effect in 2009. The more stringent
Phase 2 standards are now in effect for all composite wood panels and finished goods sold in California. Prior to the CWP Regulation, formaldehyde emissions were often ten to twenty-fold higher than the current allowable levels.

The finished product I purchased emits a strong, unpleasant odor. Is that odor from the formaldehyde?

While many composite wood materials used in finished goods are made with urea formaldehyde-based resins, other chemicals in varnishes, decorative finishes, paint, etc., used in the assembly of such products may also contribute to the odor. So just because a product smells, it doesn’t mean that it is off-gassing formaldehyde. For products that are made with formaldehyde based resins or adhesives, rapid off-gassing of formaldehyde occurs initially when the product is made, and over time the formaldehyde emissions decrease.