Ever ask how furniture is made?
Most of us know what materials are used in the construction of our new kitchen. If we don’t then its the Salesman’s job to differentiate one door’s properties from another. Vinyl wrapped, Veneer, Laminated and Solid woods for the doors are all among the popular choices and vary considerably in price. It’s an important factor in the buying decision and whatever sits in front of your chipboard cabinets governs the price you’ll pay.
Being informed about the materials is vital but how many of us wanted to delve a little deeper and ask about how the materials are made and what substances are used in their manufacture? I’m guessing a big fat zero.
I installed them for over 25 years and never once thought to ask or research the properties of the materials I was sawing, planing and shaping to fit into a kitchen. I knew that MDF and MFC were wood chips and fibres bound by a glue to form a board with which the vast majority of kitchen cabinets and a number of doors are made from.
Formaldehyde and off-gassing
It was only recently that I discovered that the most common adhesive used as the binder for these boards was called Urea Formaldehyde. Now don’t worry, I wont be going all scientific on you here because I do want you to read this in an effort for you to become a little better informed like I’ve been.
Apply a quick Google search for Urea Formaldehyde and you’ll discover that it’s classed as a Carcinogen. It is one of the large family of chemical compounds called volatile organic compounds or “VOCs,” meaning that the compound vaporises, at normal room temperatures.
At this point its important to tell you that Formaldehyde is a substance that also exists naturally in the air we breathe everyday at levels, 0.03 ppm, that are harmless to humans but increased levels can present health issues and of particular importance in the home, are the levels of substances present in the indoor air we breathe.
It was an eye opener for me to discover that boards used in the construction of kitchens, off-gas – I know, I know, off gas???
Yes, and they off gas formaldehyde, at a higher concentration in the first few months after fitting.
OK, so that sounds a little worrying but not if the levels of formaldehyde in furniture boards are low enough to prevent it becoming a health risk. And are they? Answer – I don’t know.
Is this information available from the manufacturers of the boards? Are they labelled? Answer – I don’t know but I want to know and we all need to know
What I do know is that many countries take the exposure of Formaldehyde risk seriously enough to regulate it to safe, maximum levels in parts per million (PPM).
For instance, in the UK the Maximum Exposure Level for Formaldehyde is 2.0 parts per million yet in Sweden and Germany the MEL is 0.1 ppm. Studies prove that even at levels of 0.1 ppm heath effects can still become apparent which raises the question, why on earth are maximum exposure levels in the UK so much higher?
So, where am I going with this? Well I want to know more, I want to know why we are so ill informed about the dangers of Formaldehyde in boards used to produce furniture throughout our homes.
Are they used at all?
The government’s own HSE website states:
“There are two European formaldehyde classes, E1 and E2, depending on levels of formaldehyde emission measured. The release of formaldehyde from E1 boards is less than 0.1 ppm (parts per million) and for E2 boards it is between 0.1 ppm and 0.3 ppm’, yet continues with:
‘In Europe, the majority of manufacturers produce only low emission boards’.
The majority??? How then do we discover the minority?
Formaldehyde Free Alternatives
There are formaldehyde free alternatives and if these are being utilised in the boards that manufacturers use, then great but let us know it
For those manufacturers that still use formaldehyde as a binder, I want to know what levels are incorporated into the boards they make? I want to learn whether ourselves and our children are being exposed to a greater health risk than populations in other countries.
Poor quality indoor air emissions that may arise out of certain boards used in manufacture of kitchens can, we know, be reduced by replacing materials containing formaldehyde and hydrocarbon compounds with safe alternatives. Likewise there are safer alternatives to paints, lacquers and other substances used in the finishing processes.
My question is – how do we determine this if maximum permissible levels of formaldehyde in the UK are so much higher than elsewhere?
Whilst researching for this post I came across a recent update, March 2016, on the FIRA (Furniture Industry Research Association) website – the title ‘Should there be compulsory lower formaldehyde limits in board materials?’
FIRA state ‘European board manufacturers have asked the British Furniture Confederation (BFC) to support this campaign as they feel that products with lower formaldehyde contents will be beneficial to consumers. There will clearly be an impact on industry, particularly in relation to imported products. The BFC’s strategy promotes environmental improvements and it is consulting UK manufacturers and retailers to assess whether they are also keen to support this campaign.’
Time To Act
We, as consumers, should have the same opportunity to have our opinions taken into account. It’s vital that we eliminate any of the potential health risks of Formaldehyde which, in various studies, has proven to be a risk to human health. Why should we be exposed to unnecessary risks when safe alternatives are readily available?