Clearing the Air: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Standards

My father was a cabinetmaker for fifty years before passing away after a long battle with lung cancer last fall. I occasionally worked with him on home remodeling projects and I recall with clarity the toxic smells emanating from the stains and finishes he used to create the rich colors and lustrous finishes on his beautiful cabinetry designs.  

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the cabinetry’s interior panels and shelving were composite wood products, laden with adhesives made from urea formaldehyde that would one day be declared as a Toxic Air Contaminant by the state we were living in at the time.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) creates clean air standards, which aim to reduce indoor toxic air contaminants by passing tough limits on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood panels prevalent in building materials. 

Formaldehyde has been classified as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the State of California, and has a range of other adverse health effects, including a connection to multiple chemical sensitivity.

This year marks the fourth year in the staggered implementation timeline, and as Phase II limits become effective it is estimated that a 60 percent reduction in formaldehyde emission for particle board and more than a 70 percent reduction from MDF will be achieved. Once fully implemented, CARB’s formaldehyde emission limits will be the tightest in the world.

However, the grass can always be greener (except here in Oregon where the rain keeps all things verdant and product manufacturers thrive on green technologies). In this case, the deeper shade of green is a soy-based binder made famous by Columbia Forest Product’s PureBond product introduced in 2006. This non-toxic, renewable alternative continues to receive industry accolades as more homeowners are becoming aware they can have cabinetry without the risks associated with formaldehyde emissions. Whether you sigh with relief or take a deep breath, you’re safe.

Since 1998, Neil Kelly Cabinets has been a forerunner in green cabinetry by adhering to environmentally friendly materials and construction techniques. They were using no-added-urea-formaldehyde panels and low VOC finishes long before there were any rules or regulations around indoor air quality. 

In my office, sits a beautiful armoire handcrafted by my father 14 years ago. I still recall my then 3-year old son “working” by his grandfather’s side, and on the fourth anniversary of the CARB formaldehyde emissions standard, I have newfound appreciation for green home building standards and codes.


  1. It is amazing how much we were exposed to toxic substances not that long ago! It's a good thing that new standards are being set and that information is more readily available, thanks to sources like your blog. Thanks!


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