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Formaldehyde

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Formaldehyde is a colourless gas that is emitted mainly from household products and building materials. Low levels of formaldehyde in indoor air are very common and not of concern. When found at high levels in air, it can be detected by a sharp smell. Formaldehyde can off-gas from certain products, such as building materials and some furniture. Testing has shown that formaldehyde is released from more than 90% of selected composite wood products tested, and releases increase with higher temperatures and humidity. It can also be released from sources like cigarette smoke, use of fireplaces and cooking. High concentrations of formaldehyde can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and can worsen asthma symptoms, especially in children.

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) (PDF Version 1,240 K) that the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health are 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. A proposed regulation is intended to be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, in early 2018.

The Notice of intent to develop proposed regulations recognizes 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, coming into force in December 2017, require composite wood products sold or imported in the US to comply with the requirements of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on formaldehyde emissions and with other requirements such as product traceability and certification.

The Government of Canada invites all interested stakeholders to participate in the 60-day public comment period, from March 18, 2017 to May 17, 2017 . As part of an open and transparent process, the development of these proposed regulations will include consultations with representatives of provincial and territorial governments, industry, non-governmental organizations, the public and other stakeholders. These consultations will include an initial launch webinar in spring 2017 followed by a more in-depth multi-stakeholder workshop (see Timelines). Any comments will be considered during the development of the proposed regulations.

How to Participate

All interested parties (for example, importers, manufacturers, retailers, non-governmental organizations, the public) may submit comments and their interest in participating in these consultations (launch webinar and multi-stakeholder workshop) to the Executive Director, Program Development and Engagement Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada by facsimile to 819-938-5212, or by email to eccc.substances.eccc@canada.ca.

Timelines

Date Activity
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.
Spring 2017 Initial launch webinar introducing the Government of Canada’s intention to regulate formaldehyde emissions in composite wood products and outline areas where stakeholder input is requested. Release of a stakeholder consultation document outlining the potential approach and information needs.
Summer 2017 A multi-stakeholder workshop in Ottawa, Ontario to discuss development of proposed regulations. 
June 2017 Stakeholder input on proposed regulations welcome until June 2017. 
Winter 2018 Publication of the proposed regulations in the Canada Gazette, Part I.

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, requiring a different risk management approach. In 2006, Health Canada developed a Residential Indoor Air Quality Guideline for Formaldehyde. Furthermore, the manufacture, import, advertising 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 measures that were already in place in the state of California.