Beginning Jan. 1, California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations will require manufacturers of composite wood products to reduce formaldehyde emissions of their products sold in the state. The regulations affect materials like hardwood plywood, particleboard, and MDF, both as end products and as raw materials in categories such as cabinetry and furniture. The regulations will roll out in two phases; the second phase, which will be implemented by 2012, will be the most stringent in the world.

Panel producers in North America and overseas will need to have their manufacturing facilities certified by CARB-approved third-party testers. “We most definitely expect the North American industry to be in compliance very quickly,” says Curt Alt, vice president of marketing and communications for the Composite Panel Association, which is also one of the CARB’s third-party certifiers. Alt says the group expects 90% of North American production capacity to be CARB certified by the beginning of this quarter.

Many North American producers were already reducing formaldehyde content, and some merely had to undergo the certification process. Columbia Forest Products, for example, already offers products that meet Phase 2 of the regulations.

Timber Products Co. has been monitoring the situation for some time and will have all plants certified in time. Roger Rutan, vice president of marketing and business development, says customers should see no change in performance. “Industries or individuals should expect and demand the same quality product that they’ve had in the past,” he says.

Alt says importers are more impacted because there are fewer certifiers overseas, and some areas, particularly in Asia, are not as accustomed to undergoing third-party certification. If there is a shortage in California because of imports, “North American producers are ready and able to fill any and all additional demand,” he says.

Demitri Stanich, spokesperson for CARB, says organization reps have toured Southeast Asia, and “we feel they will be well-versed and prepared to comply with the regulation.”

There are sell-through provisions, including 12 months for retailers of composite wood products and 18 months for retailers of finished products.

To ensure they are getting compliant products, builders should check the invoice for their raw materials; a bundle will have a unit tag or other mark identifying the materials as compliant. For finished goods, each product should carry its own label, as well as show certification on the invoice.

Builders outside of California will likely receive CARB-compliant materials as well, since separating out inventory would be difficult for manufacturers and carry too much risk of noncompliant panels being sold.

Pros also should keep in mind that the regulation does not affect products such as softwood plywood and OSB, says Rusty Carroll, brand manager for LP. The material makeup of those is such that what little formaldehyde is released is equal to that of “background” levels naturally found in indoor and outdoor air.

For more information on the regulations, check out the CPA’s coverage at www.carbrule.org or CARB’s section at www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm. —Katy Tomasulo