Two weeks ago, "60 Minutes" aired an investigative report on Lumber Liquidators, the nation's largest retailer of hardwood flooring in North America with 360 stores in 46 states and revenues of over a billion dollars a year. The results revealed extremely high levels of formaldehyde and falsified health claims on the company's products.
Much of the company’s laminate flooring is actually manufactured in China. But "60 Minutes" uncovered that this laminate flooring far exceeded acceptable levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. While the company claims that its flooring is safe, this report found that claim to be highly questionable.
Tens of thousands of households in California alone have installed the Lumber Liquidators flooring. And while the laminate flooring from Lowe’s and Home Depot came in at acceptable levels, every single sample of Lumber Liquidators Chinese-made laminate flooring didn’t meet standards. In fact, the average level in Lumber Liquidators products was six or seven times higher than the acceptable levels, and in some cases, it was more than 20 times higher than acceptable levels. In one case, researchers thought that the testing machine was broken because the reading shot up so much.
Long term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can cause chronic respiratory issues and an increase in the risk of asthma. It’s especially problematic for the vulnerable systems of kids. The chemical can also cause myeloid leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. While it is legal in flooring because it’s often used to bind particle boards together in laminate flooring, emissions can leak into the air. That’s why states have strict standards for how much can be used. As part of the investigation, "60 Minutes" did additional testing, and of 31 samples, only one sample was compliant with standards.
“For consumers with potentially affected wood flooring, it makes no difference to them which federal agency does what,” Elliot F. Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a statement. “All that matters is that the government use its resources and authorities to try to answer this fundamental question: Is the affected flooring in homes safe or not?”
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While the federal government has yet to pass strict standards for formaldehyde, California passed standards on its own and then the EPA adopted those standards, but according to The New York Times, “after multiple extensions at the urging of industry groups, those standards have not yet gone into effect. In a statement, the E.P.A. said that it was still completing its rules, which it expected to publish by the end of this year.”
Lumber Liquidators contamination issues were first discovered by Xuhua Zhou, a 25-year-old individual investor who noticed that the company’s net profits were much much higher than competitors, leaving him wondering how the company was getting such cheap product. That’s when the formaldehyde issue was discovered.
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Image of flooring from Shuttershock