Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a colourless gas that is emitted mainly from household products and building materials. Formaldehyde is commonly found in indoor air. It can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and can worsen asthma symptoms, especially in children. When found at high levels in air, such as those found in some workplace environments, it can be detected by a sharp smell and has been associated with cancer of the nasal passageways. Formaldehyde can be emitted from certain products, such as building materials and some furniture. Health Canada has shown that formaldehyde is released from more than 90% of select composite wood products tested, and releases of the substance increase with higher temperatures and humidity. It can also be released from sources like cigarette smoke, the use of fireplaces, and when cooking.

Proposed regulations

On June 29, 2019, the proposed Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 75-day public comment period ending on September 12, 2019. Comments and information received during the public comment period will be considered in the development of the final regulations, targeted for publication in 2020.

The regulations would help reduce exposure of Canadians to formaldehyde emissions in indoor air from composite wood products sold, offered for sale or imported into Canada. The regulations would place limits on the amount of formaldehyde that composite wood products can emit. Further to the requirements to meet emission limits, the regulations would impose requirements on industry for record-keeping, labelling, and reporting. They would also align Canadian requirements for composite wood products with similar requirements in the United States (U.S.), thereby helping to minimize burden for businesses operating in both Canada and the U.S.

Directive concerning testing

On June 29, 2019, the proposed Directive Concerning Testing for Formaldehyde Emissions was published for a 75-day public comment period ending on September 12, 2019. Comments and information received during the public comment period will be considered in the development of the final regulations and final version of the directive, targeted for publication in 2020. The directive is an enforceable document which elaborates on testing requirements in the regulations.

Consultation document

On July 31, 2017, Health Canada, in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, published a consultation document on the proposed regulatory approach to reduce emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products.

The objective of this consultation document was to inform and solicit comments from stakeholders on the proposed regulatory approach. Stakeholders had the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal and submit additional information during the public comment period, which ended on September 1, 2017.

Comments and information received related to the consultation document have been considered in the development of the proposed regulations, which were published on June 29, 2019 in the Canada Gazette, Part 1.

Notice of intent to develop regulations

In March 2017, a notice of intent was published in the Canada Gazette, Part I: Vol. 151, No. 11 – March 18, 2017 that the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health were initiating the development of proposed regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) respecting formaldehyde emission standards for composite wood products to help reduce exposure to formaldehyde emissions from certain wood products produced domestically or imported into Canada. Publication of the notice of intent marked the beginning of a 60-day public comment period, which ended on May 17, 2017.

The notice of intent to develop proposed regulations recognized current North American activities, specifically those of the United States (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency which published the Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products in December 2016. The U.S. national emission standards require composite wood products sold in or imported into the U.S. to comply with requirements based on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) measures for reducing formaldehyde emissions, and with other requirements such as product traceability and certification.

As part of an open and transparent process, the development of the proposed regulations has included consultations with representatives of industry, non-governmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples, the public, and other stakeholders. Initial consultative activities included launch webinars and a voluntary data-gathering questionnaire. Any comments received by September 1, 2017 were considered during the development of the proposed regulations.

Timelines
Date Activity
June 29, 2019 Publication of the proposed Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products Regulations in the Canada Gazette, Part I and the start of a 75-day public comment period
June 29, 2019 Publication of the proposed Directive Concerning Testing for Formaldehyde Emissions and the start of a 75-day public comment period.
Summer 2017 – Fall 2018 Continued stakeholder consultations during the drafting of the proposed regulations.
September 6, 2017 Multi-stakeholder workshop in Ottawa, Ontario to discuss development of proposed regulations.
August 1, 2017 Launch of online pre-consultation activity to collect preliminary stakeholder input on the regulations to inform the agenda for the multi-stakeholder workshop.
July 31, 2017 Publication of the consultation document on the proposed regulatory approach to reduce emissions of formaldehyde from composite wood products and start of the public comment period.
May 3, 2017 A Parliamentary Motion regarding the adoption of regulations on formaldehyde emissions for composite wood products intended for indoor use was unanimously passed by the House of Commons.
April 5 and 19, 2017 Launch of webinars to introduce the Government of Canada's intention to regulate formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products and to outline areas where stakeholder input is requested. Launch of the voluntary data-gathering questionnaire.
March 18, 2017 Release of the notice of intent to develop proposed regulations respecting formaldehyde emission standards for composite wood products and an invitation to interested parties to participate in consultations.

If needed, other information gathering tools could be used to inform potential risk management actions.

Background

In 2001, Environment Canada and Health Canada completed a risk assessment for formaldehyde and concluded that it was harmful to human health and the environment under CEPA 1999. Formaldehyde was added to the List of Toxic Substances in Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999. Current controls focus on reducing formaldehyde emissions to outdoor air. These include:

Formaldehyde is also a concern for indoor air which requires a different risk management approach. In 2006, Health Canada developed residential indoor air quality guidelines for formaldehyde. Furthermore, the manufacture, importation, advertisement or sale of urea formaldehyde-based thermal insulation, which is foamed in place and used to insulate buildings, is prohibited under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA). In addition, a voluntary standard was established by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in 2016 to harmonize with the limits that were established by the State of California.

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