Recent news reports have highlighted concerns over the health effects of formaldehyde and its classification as a carcinogen. This fact sheet from APA—The Engineered Wood Association addresses the concerns related to structural wood panels and explains why plywood and OSB manufactured to U.S. Product Standards PS 1 and PS 2 have such low emission levels that they are exempt from the leading formaldehyde emission standards and regulations.
Formaldehyde Regulations and Structural Wood Products
Structural wood products such as plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) are manufactured to meet stringent product standards, including Voluntary Product Standard PS 1-07 for Structural Plywood and Voluntary Product Standard PS 2, Performance Standard for Wood-Based Structural-Use Panels. Because wood products produced under these standards are designed for construction applications governed by building codes, they are manufactured only with moisture-resistant adhesives that meet Exterior or Exposure 1 bond classifications. These adhesives, phenol formaldehyde and diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI), are chemically reacted into stable bonds during pressing. The final products have such low formaldehyde emission levels that they easily meet or are exempt from the world’s leading formaldehyde emission standards and regulations:
What is Formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a simple chemical made of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. It occurs naturally, and is the product of many natural processes. It is made by our bodies and is in the air. Plants and animals also produce formaldehyde. It is in many fruits and vegetables, and is a byproduct of cooking certain vegetables, such as brussel sprouts and cabbage. This chemical breaks down quickly and is metabolized to simple carbon dioxide. Our bodies readily break down the low levels to which we are exposed everyday.
Formaldehyde is also a product from combustion associated with the burning of kerosene and natural gas; automobile emissions; and cigarettes. It is an important industrial chemical used in the manufacture of numerous consumer products, including permanent press fabrics and even toothpaste.
How Much Formaldehyde is in Wood?
All wood species, and therefore all wood products, contain and emit small amounts of formaldehyde. Because formaldehyde occurs naturally in wood, there is no such thing as “formaldehyde-free” wood. An oak tree, for example, emits 0.009 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde. By itself, this is a very low quantity, but densely wooded areas can have much higher concentrations. It follows that any wood cut from that oak tree also contains small amounts of formaldehyde, as do all wood products.
For More Information
For more information on formaldehyde and its presence in wood building materials, please refer to the following publications and websites: