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Is My Flooring Safe From Toxins?

Written by Craig Dupra, Owner, Installers Warehouse, Inc.
Imagery by Installers Warehouse, Inc.

There is a lot of confusion about acronyms, such as CARB and VOCs, that pertain to flooring safety. Let me help straighten things out.
    CARB is the California Air Resources Board, a government agency in California that sets standards for emissions for a variety of chemicals released through economic activities, primarily pertaining to transportation such as cars and trucks. The rest of the country references CARB when determining safe levels of these chemicals.
    CARB sets standards for,  “outgassing” on manufactured wood products such as furniture and flooring. All engineered flooring consists of various layers of wood or wood composite that are glued together. Glues may contain chemicals that can outgas (release a gas or vapor) after they are manufactured. CARB sets acceptable standards for the amount of chemicals that can be safely released in the home.
    Recently, a national retail flooring chain was involved in a scandal where products were labeled CARB compliant when they were not. Products imported from Asia must be carefully monitored to be certain that they do in fact meet CARB standards. I have never heard of North American or Western European product that was not CARB compliant or was mislabeled.
    The other concern that people have pertains to VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds. These are the byproducts of internal combustion engines and the drying/curing of architectural coatings.
    When VOCs are released into the lower atmosphere and hit by strong sunlight, they can produce lower atmospheric ozone (O3). In the upper atmosphere, O3 blocks harmful UV rays but in the lower atmosphere, O3 is a pollutant and can cause breathing problems in people with respiratory issues.
    There are national standards for O3 that are enacted by states when O3 reaches a certain level for a number of days in a year. Approximately 95% of VOCs come from cars and trucks. New York is a state with VOC emission standards.
    There are no VOCs associated with prefinished solid flooring but certain finishes for new unfinished floors or floors being refinished do emit VOCs when drying and curing. In general, VOC emissions and regulations have little to do with air quality in the home but they are regulated for their effect on air quality in the general environment. Think unleaded gasoline and the air in your car. We use unleaded for the air we all breathe, not just for your personal environment.
    For more information on emission standards and industry regulations, visit the CARB website at www.arb.ca.gov 

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