A consumer advocacy group has asked the federal government to ban or to restrict the use of urea-formaldehyde resins in particleboard products, largely used in the mobile home and furniture industries.
The petition by the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America is the latest shot in a long war to remove formaldehyde, regarded by some as a cancer-causing agent, from consumer goods.
"American homes are becoming chambers of toxic gas as urea-formaldehyde fumes escape from kitchen cabinets, particleboard furniture, subflooring and plywood walls," CFA said in its petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
CFA's action Thursday drew a swift response from the Formaldehyde Institute of Scarsdale, N.Y., an organization of 70 companies and associations that manufacture or use formaldehyde.
"Significant breakthroughs in reducing formaldehyde emissions from industrial and household products" make the CFA petition for mandatory limits on the chemical unnecessary, said C. T. Howlett Jr., vice chairman of the institute.
Howlett repeated the industry's claim that "there has been no evidence . . . that formaldehyde poses a significant human health risk at levels of home exposure." But, in any case, he said new technology and research "has resulted in a new generation of low-formaldehyde wood products that represents a 65-to-95 percent reduction in formaldehyde vapor release."
Howlett said the institute is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on formaldehyde product emission standards for building products used in mobile homes, which rely heavily on pressed-wood and particleboard materials.
But the CFA said in its petition that the federal government is moving too slowly in its efforts to police formaldehyde use. "The philosophy of the Reagan administration is to eliminate regulations, not create new ones," the petition said. It said the CPSC, for example, "is under a mandate to seek voluntary, not mandatory, standards" for formaldehyde emissions.