Condo Blues: Can Your Laminate Flooring Kill You?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Can Your Laminate Flooring Kill You?

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes investigated Lumber Liquidators Chinese made laminate flooring for unsafe levels of formaldehyde in  Lumber Liquidators Linked to Health and Safety Violations. 

questions about lumber liquidators and formaldehyde

The basics of the story I linked to are this:

  • 60 Minutes bought 150 boxes of laminate flooring from several Lumber Liquidators stores throughout Californian.

  • 60 Minutes asked three independent labs to test the samples to see if the formaldehyde in the laminate flooring (mostly in the glue used to make the laminate) meets California’s strict formaldehyde emissions standards, called CARB 2.

  • The lab results showed all of Lumber Liquidators Chinese made laminate flooring was from 6 to 7 times over the state limit and some laminate samples were up to 20 times over the state limit.

  • Lumber Liquidators American made laminate flooring as well as Lumber Liquidators flooring they purchased from Lowes and Home Depot passed testing.

  • 60 Minutes then purchased 31 Chinese made laminate samples from Lumber Liquidators stores in four states and sent the samples to two certified labs for formaldehyde testing.

  • Both labs reported that 30 samples were over the formaldehyde limit, some as high as 13 times. 1 sample of Chinese made laminate flooring passed testinga.

That is curious.

Especially when Lumber Liquidators assures customers on its web site that they “meets or exceeds rigorous emissions standards" for the formaldehyde in their laminate flooring (which appears in all laminate because it is in the glue.)

I suppose Lumber Liquidators isn’t lying because they do. 60 Minutes found Lumber Liquidators exceed the formaldehyde emissions standards in the opposite direction of compliant. Oopsie.

What’s the Big Deal?

Continued exposure to high levels of formaldehyde have been linked to severe health issues. Elaine Schattner a physician and Forbes contributor quoted quoted Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a physician, toxicologist and former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in her article '60 Minutes' Is Right To Raise Questions About Lumber Liquidators' Toxic Floors:

““For flooring I’d be more concerned about acute health effects, particularly for infants crawling over the floor,” Goldstein wrote by email. Children breathe in more air relative to their small body sizes than do adults. “When they work hard, as they do when they crawl or run, they will have maximal respiratory uptake of anything gassing off the floor. Pets too,” he added.”

The Forbes article also says,

“On the program, (Dr.) Landrigan said that long-term exposure to formaldehyde increases the risk for chronic respiratory irritation, reduced lung function and asthma. “It’s not going to cause symptoms in everybody,” he said. Children are most likely to be affected.” 

Oh? Like the sick kids staying in Ronald McDonald Houses covered in donated Lumber Liquidators flooring?

Not to mention the Habitat for Humanity families sliding around on Lumber Liquidators flooring and big chunks of their customer base.

What does Lumber Liquidators Say About Lying to their Customers?

In a nutshell, Lumber Liquidators says that the certified independent labs didn’t test the flooring samples correctly and they have no idea who those guys are in the Chinese flooring plant who told 60 Minutes that they just stamp the certification in the packages when shown the hidden video footage.

Lumber Liquidators also says this whole mess is the result of a group of investors trying to drive down Lumber Liquidators stock price. (Read The Virginia Gazette 60 Minutes' Story Worries Lumber Liquidators Customers  and The Business Insider Lumber Liquidators says '60 Minutes' got it wrong for details.)

I might be able to give Lumber Liquidators the benefit of the doubt since they wouldn’t be the first American company who was told a foreign manufacturing plant was making the product one way and it turned out not to be to specs. But that being the case, I’d expect Lumber Liquidators to test batches of their products randomly and more frequently than once a year.

I’m also personally suspicious about Lumber Liquidators bad testing claims after 60 Minutes also mentioned that the federal government is investigating Lumber Liquidators for possibly buying illegal Russia timber. What”s that sound you hear? Only Lumber Liquidators creditability rapidly falling down the mountain of customer goodwill.

What are Lumber Liquidators Customers Supposed to Do?

Given the 60 Minutes testing results, it is a roll of the dice whether Lumber Liquidators customers should be overly concerned about their laminate flooring or not. NBC News gives some suggestions on what you can do before you pick up a crowbar and dismantle the laminate flooring in your house in  Lumber Liquidators 'Stands by Every Plank.' Should You?

Let’s be honest here, while some say rip everything out no matter what (remember some of the Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring tested as safe) not everyone will be able to afford a replacement, which depending up on the laminate flooring supplier, might put those customers back into a similar position. The Chinese plants 60 Minutes visited make laminate flooring for many companies. Who knows if this isn’t happening somewhere else with or without the company’s knowledge?

I realize there will be people out there that will use this as an opportunity to complain about buying cheap junk from China, that hardwood flooring it the only way to go, or you get what you pay for.
Well apparently those folks haven’t priced flooring of any type lately like I have because even the cheap stuff isn’t all that cheap!  Carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile - even the cheesy looking stuff isn’t cheap when you need a lot of it to cover a room. I personally believe you should spend as much as you can afford in these situations because it is an investment but not everyone has the money to do that.

Unfortunately as consumers, we have no idea when purchasing laminate anything whether it contains a safe level of formaldehyde or not just by looking at the price or city of origin. Global economy remember? (I’m not a laminate hater. I’m sitting at Ohio made laminate desk while I write this post.) We as consumers have to do our own research about the things that concern us. But the companies that sell that product are also responsible for earning our trust (and patronage) by telling us the truth on whether the product passed a safety test or if they took a shortcut and just printed that on the box without bothering to test or fix a problem. 

I trusted Lumber Liquidators products are as they say they are. Now? I’m not so sure. What about you? Do you have a Lumber Liquidators flooring in your house? Are you concerned or are going to wait and see?

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