This is a good question regarding the toxicity of an engineered wood product.
Every manufacturer loves to show that their product has been approved by a rating agency.
- Nowadays, there are more than 200 labeling organizations offering green certifications.
- And most want money for their labels.
- When you research the criteria for how each label is awarded to see if the label is worth its salt, it reads like a long legal description on a tract of real estate.
Primary research is lacking
Few agencies do their own testing because it is far too expensive and most rely on information available on line or from the government, universities or medical institutions.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it is difficult to feel confident that the information one reads is reliable. This is especially true when the subject matter is a product made from an overseas manufacturer.
No matter what is claimed, there is rarely any third party independent certification and if there is, it is usually looks much like a fake ID made from some laboratory which is almost impossible to track.
Toxicity in hardwood flooring
When it comes to engineered hardwood flooring, there are two potential sources of toxic chemicals:
- The adhesive binding the various layers together which often contains urea formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), and
- the finish such as polyurethane or aluminum oxide applied to the surfaces of the wood which may off-gas toxic volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, for weeks or months.
Much of the engineered hardwood sold in the US is imported from overseas and is manufactured according to a variety of standards. There is no one standard accepted worldwide as to how much formaldehyde or VOCs are acceptable to one's health.
The E0 emission grade
The E0 grade you mentioned is most likely a standard from China.
Below is information from Wood & Timber Trade website that addresses the question of formaldehyde in China:
- In China, the grade of Formaldehyde Emission of Wood Based Panels are E0, E1, E2 . The E0, E1, E2 grades are the Formaldehyde Emission standards for MDF, HDF, Particleboard, OSB, plywood, veneered plywood, blockboard, melamine faced board, floor.
- According to the national compulsory standard GB18580-2001
, all wood-based panels should meet E1 or E2 grade.
In China, E0 ('0' is the number '0', not letter 'O') comes from the national standard GB/T9846.1- 9846.8-2004
However, E0 grade is not a compulsory standard in China. But many manufacturers are trying to adopt E0 standard in production.
The standard of E0, E1, E2 according to China standard (dessicator test value):
The "E" stands for emissions.
Emission standards in other countries
How do these standards compare to the standards of other countries? Let's compare the E0. 5 mg/L = .5 ppm (parts per million).
- The Chinese E0 is less than OSHA standards, but
- does not come close to the German E1 (.106 ppm) or their new E0 (.07 ppm), or
- Japanese (.04 ppm) or
- the US CARB2 California (.05 ppm).
This Chinese standard allows 10 times more formaldehyde than what is allowed in the state of California, yet just a few years ago it was acceptable all over the US. Would you accept this?
What does this mean?
Most people can't smell the difference between .5 and .05 ppm. It's too small. But some chemically sensitive people can detect this difference quite easily.
You asked in your question: what does this really mean? Is this a low VOC product?
- Urea formaldehyde is a VOC and classified as a potential carcinogen.
- However, acceptable concentrations seem to depend upon each individual's reaction to it.
- Some can tolerate more than others.
- Just because it may not bother you doesn't mean it is good to inhale.
- Often low concentrations of formaldehyde emissions are undetectable, yet over time, they can have a serious impact on ones health.
Most of the chemically sensitive people we encounter on a daily basis often tell us they were not so sensitive when younger, but over time, in the presence of some undetected chemical(s) became highly sensitized and quite ill from breathing in toxic emissions.
Choose the toughest standards
Ultimately the decision of whose standard to accept is up to you.
We highly recommend that you avoid those standards that accept higher levels of formaldehdye and choose those with less. While green labels may be based on solid criteria, unless you know how they award labels, its best to proceed with caution.
Even at our store where we sell several US and European flooring products with the lowest levels of formaldehdye, we still recommend that everyone test samples for their own personal tolerances.
Testing your own tolerance level
One way to test your own tolerance level (that many of our chemically sensitive customers use) is to obtain a current sample (not an old one) and place it in a hot car for several hours.
- The heat from the car helps accelerate off-gassing and when you re-enter the car the odor should be more noticable and its effects on your physiology more obvious.
- You can do the same test by placing the sample in a glass jar with a tight lid. It's not as good as the test in the car but it may be easier for you.
The bottom line is you have to do your homework, ask tough questions and test, test, test.
For more information:
Read "What is truly the healthiest wood floor option, and what are the safest finish products to use?" a Q&A answered by Victoria Schomer.
For more details about VOC's and Health clickhere.
And if you have further questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.