The Chinese building materials industry is again under scrutiny. A few years ago, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was fielding complaints from homeowners about health conditions that developed when they moved into newly constructed or renovated homes. Homeowners also found corrosion of copper wire and other metal components in their homes. All told, the CPSC received more than 4,000 reports from people in 44 states (37 reports from California), the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
The culprit proved to be sulfurous gases emitted by drywall imported from China. A number of class action lawsuits followed.
So it was that recent news about another building product manufactured in China caused more than a few double-takes and déjà-vu moments. This time, the product is laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators Inc. This time, however, it was not consumer complaints that got the CPSC’s attention; it was a “60 Minutes” segment.
In early March, correspondent Anderson Cooper reported that the wood laminate product contains problematic levels of formaldehyde. East Coast senators, wondering how much of the product was installed in their constituents’ homes following Superstorm Sandy, are asking the federal government to launch its own investigation.
Lumber Liquidators states that it is cooperating fully with CPSC. The company is also attempting to reassure customers that only the Chinese-made products are involved; the rest of its inventory has not been targeted by networks, consumer groups or environmental regulators. Fox News reported this week that the company is considering suing “60 Minutes” for libel.
There are specific questions about the testing method employed by the “60 Minutes” team. Critics say that the test does not replicate “real-world” conditions. According to company representatives, the specific test used by the news show — deconstructive testing — actually removes a protective coating from the product, a coating that reduces formaldehyde emissions. California environmental regulations do not require products to undergo deconstructive testing.
Insurance Journal, “Va. Retailer Lumber Liquidators’ Imported Flooring Faces Safety Inquiry,” March 26, 2015
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Drywall Information Center, at www.cpsc.gov, accessed March 27, 2015