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Flooring Giant Challenged on Emissions

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

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Already under federal scrutiny for its importing practices, the nation's largest hardwood flooring retailer is now accused of selling Chinese-made laminate floors with excessive amounts of formaldehyde.

More than 100 million square feet of Lumber Liquidators' laminate flooring is installed in American homes each year, CBS News reported Sunday (March 1) in a segment on 60 Minutes.


The nonprofit Global Community Monitor is suing Lumber Liquidators. The group alleges that independent testing has shown that the retailer's Chinese-made laminate flooring far exceeds legal limits for formaldehyde. CBS News also had the flooring tested and reported similar results.

The 13-minute segment reported on an investigation by Denny Larson, head of the nonprofit Global Community Monitor, and environmental attorney Richard Drury.

'A Large Margin'

Global Community Monitor filed suit against Lumber Liquidators in July 2014 after obtaining independent lab testing of Chinese-made flooring sold by the retailer.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes reported how Larson and Drury had purchased more than 150 boxes of laminate flooring from various Home Depot, Lowe's and Lumber Liquidators' stores around California and submitted the products to three certified labs for testing.

The result: The flooring by Lowe's and Home Depot had "acceptable levels" of formaldehyde, as did Lumber Liquidators' flooring made in the United States.

However, 60 Minutes said: "...[E]very single sample of Chinese-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators failed to meet California formaldehyde emissions standards. Many by a large margin."

©CBS News / 60 Minutes

"Every single sample of Chinese-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators failed to meet California formaldehyde emissions standardsmany by a large margin," 60 Minutes reported in a 13-minute segment hosted by Anderson Cooper.

Formaldehye, a known human carcinogen, is a common ingredient in the glue used in laminate flooring and other pressed-wood products.

Inhaling Formaldehyde

The average formaldehyde level in the retailer's Chinese-made laminate was "six to seven times above the state standard for formaldehyde," Drury told 60 Minutes' Anderson Cooper. Some samples were nearly 20 times the legal level, he said.

On its website, Global Community Monitor reports, "Test results showed average initial formaldehyde exposures dozens of times above the level requiring a warning label under Proposition 65, California’s main toxics warning law.

"Tests also show the Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese-made laminate flooring exceeds California Air Resources Board ('CARB') Formaldehyde standards by several times, on average [emphasis in original]."

60 Minutes notes that the flooring's laminated top traps most of the formaldehyde emissions. "But formaldehyde does leak into the air," the report added.

©CBS News / 60 Minutes

Dr. Philip Landrigan, of New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, specializes in environmental pediatrics. Landrigan spoke with Cooper about the hazards of formaldehyde emissions in the home.

"How much is inhaled by homeowners depends on how much formaldehyde is in the glue and how much ventilation in the home."

California Claims

60 Minutes also reported that it had bought Lumber Liquidators' laminate flooring in Virginia, Florida, Texas, Illinois and New York. Of 31 samples, the show said, only one complied with formaldehyde emissions standards.

"Some were more than 13 times over the California limit," CBS reported. "Both labs told us they had never seen formaldehyde levels that high."

Lumber Liquidators labels all of its laminate flooring as "CARB [California Air Resources Board] Phase 2 Compliant."

Lumber Liquidators' founder and chairman Tom Sullivan "refused to accept the methodology" used by 60 Minutes "as valid and points out the company is not required by law to test their finished products like we did," CBS said.

Sullivan said the claims came from "lawyers who are suing us, selling short on our stock."

Sullivan said his company trusted his Chinese mills, mills that he says are "licensed by California."

Tom Sullivan
Lumber Liquidators

Lumber Liquidators' share price skyrocketed from $13 in 2011 to $119 in 2013. Since the beginning of 2014, it has fallen by more than 50 percent. Company founder Tom Sullivan (at dais in top photo) challenged 60 Minutes' testing methodology for his products and insisted they were safe.

Cooper countered that the licensing meant only that the mills were capable of making CARB 2 Compliant products, not that any product made there automatically met that standard.

Undercover Investigation

60 Minutes also did an undercover investigation similar to that conducted in 2013 by the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency. In a report and documentary called Liquidating the Forests, EIA documented that Lumber Liquidators was buying hardwoods illegally harvested from Russia and channeling them through China for milling and finishing.

For its report, 60 Minutes posed as buyers at three Chinese mills that make laminate flooring for the retailer.

"Employees at the mills openly admitted that they use core boards with higher levels of formaldehyde to make Lumber Liquidators laminates, saving the company 10-15 percent on the price," the report said.

"At all three mills, they also admitted falsely labeling the company's laminate flooring as CARB 2, meaning it meets California formaldehyde emissions standards, and the new U.S. federal law."

Shown the 60 Minutes video later, Sullivan said he would "investigate it immediately."

Federal Raid

On Sept. 26, 2013, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raided Lumber Liquidators' corporate offices in Toano, VA.

Liquidating the Forests

A documentary by the Environmental Investigation Agency looked at hardwood logging by Lumber Liquidators in Russia and its milling and finishing operations in China.

On Feb. 25, 2014, the retailer admitted in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the Justice Department was "contemplating seeking criminal charges" against the company for illegal imports under the federal Lacey Act.

That law was amended in 2008 to ratchet up protection of products made from illegally logged woods.

Company Responds, Stock Plummets

Lumber Liquidators' share price rocketed from $13 in 2011 to $119 in 2013—a spike that raised eyebrows and fueled several investigations. Since the beginning of 2014, the stock has fallen more than 50 percent.

On Monday, shares of the company's stock fell nearly 25 percent in premarket trading. The plummet halted trading of the shares when the market opened.

Lumber Liquidators then issued a statement, calling its floors "100% safe" and challenging the testing methods used by 60 Minutes.

The company said that it had "reached out to the Chinese suppliers" who told CBS that the products were not CARB compliant, and that the suppliers "could not verify the identity of the individuals appearing in the videos."

Share trading resumed, and the stock declined 24 percent by the afternoon.

Lumber Liquidators says it has sold laminate flooring to two million customers across the United States.


Tagged categories: Adhesive; Construction chemicals; Emissions; Flooring system; Floors; Hardwood; Health and safety; Indoor air quality; Wood

Comment from john lienert, (3/3/2015, 9:34 AM)

hahaha....gotta' play by the rules......what's a few dead babies if you still make your billion freakin' dollars

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