FAQ formaldehyde regulations for wood-based materials & furniture

Here you will find frequently asked questions and answers about the test procedure for formaldehyde emissions from wood-based materials which came into force on 01.01.2020. The information is mainly intended for companies and institutions that manufacture, process, sell, transport, store, export or import wood-based materials or furniture or which test such products for formaldehyde emissions.

Table of Contents

 

0. Information on the legally binding nature of the information

The following are interpretations offered by the German Environment Agency. The federal states (Länder) have provided explanatory information.

We will, if necessary, supplement or adapt the information compiled here in the light of new findings.

We would point out that these interpretations of the German Environment Agency are not legally binding on courts or enforcement authorities. The Länder are responsible for the implementation of the regulations and should be contacted in the event of doubt.

 

1. What is formaldehyde, and why is it found in wood-based materials and furniture?

Formaldehyde is a harmful substance that irritates the mucous membranes and eyes. On the basis of the latest findings, the EU classified formaldehyde as “May cause cancer” (category 1 B pursuant to the CLP Regulation) in June 2014. Wood-based materials are still largely glued using formaldehyde-based binding agents. This technology has been further developed in such a way that wood-based materials with low formaldehyde emissions can now be produced using these glues; however, products with higher formaldehyde emissions are also still available on the market. It therefore follows that, to demonstrate compliance with the requirements for limiting formaldehyde emissions in the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance, a state-of-the-art test is still required.

You can find further information on formaldehyde here.

 

2. Why is there now a new test procedure for the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance?

The previously valid procedure was established in the early 1990s. Changes to the design of buildings since then have led to a reduction in the air exchange rate, meaning that the measurement method has had to be adapted to ensure compliance with the indoor air guideline of 0.1 ppm (120 µg/m³) for formaldehyde. The new procedure is DIN EN 16516: “Construction products: Assessment of release of dangerous substances - Determination of emissions into indoor air”. This EU-harmonised test standard, DIN EN 16516, provides for a higher loading factor and a lower air exchange rate than DIN EN 717-1 (previous reference standard). The values for emissions concentrations and air exchange required by DIN EN 16516 are based on the technical rules that are recognised as applying to today’s buildings from a technical and hygienic point of view. Whereas DIN EN 717-1 as a test standard aims to obtain exact measurement results, no description of the use of the products falls within its scope.

In addition, all mandates concerning formaldehyde issued under EU construction products legislation from 2005 onwards contain a reference to M/366 and EN 16516 respectively. None of these mandates contains a reference to EN 717-1. The European legislator’s view of the question of the future test standard therefore appears to be clear.

The retention of DIN EN 717-1 as an additional method (with a conversion factor of 2) will enable test institutes and industry to continue to apply the familiar test standard in the future.

 

3. How are the emissions of formaldehyde from wood-based materials determined analytically?

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) published the "Announcement of Analytical Procedures for Sampling and Investigations for the Substances and Groups of Substances listed in Annex 1 to the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance" on 26 November 2018 in the Federal Gazette (BAnz AT 26.11.2018 B2). The announcement contains a list of analytical methods for sampling and testing for formaldehyde and other substances and groups of substances referred to in Annex 1 to the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance which are in line with scientifically recognised test methods.

DIN EN 16516 is mentioned in the announcement as a new reference method for coated and uncoated wood-based materials. Emissions measurement is carried out in the test chamber (air exchange rate 0.5/h, load 1.8 m2/m3, partly narrow edge sealing perimeter/area = 1.5 m/m2), where the mean value of a duplicate determination from Day 28 is counted as the steady state concentration. Wood-based panels are tested front and back, with both sides included in the calculation of the load. DIN EN 717-1 is mentioned as an additional method, where the steady state concentration measured according to this standard needs to be multiplied by a factor of 2.0.

In accordance with the announcement (BAnz AT 26.11.2018 B2), derived methods are only suitable for production control. For this purpose, a product-related manufacturer correlation must be determined. This can be based on the American “Airborne Toxic Control Measure to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products” regulation, which is well-known in Europe and applied by testing institutes.

 

4. Have the regulations on wood-based materials and furniture in the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance (ChemVerbotsV) changed since the amended version was enacted in 2017?

No. The Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance of 20 January 2017, last amended by Article 5 of the Act of 18 July 2017 (Federal Law Gazette Vol I p. 2774), applies. The regulation covers wood-based materials and furniture intended for placing on the market.

 

5. To which products does the test procedure for formaldehyde have to be applied in accordance with the notice in the Federal Gazette of 5 November 2018?

As the announcement (BAnz AT 26.11.2018 B2) is an update of the test procedure for the implementation of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance with regard to formaldehyde emissions from wood-based materials and furniture, the products covered by the scheme remain unchanged. Specifically, Annex 1 Entry 1 Column 2 paragraph 1 of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance contains the following wording: “Coated and uncoated wood materials (particleboard, blockboard, veneer board and fibreboard) shall not be placed on the market if [...]”. Exception: According to Annex 1 Entry 1 Column 3 paragraph 1 of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance, the requirements do not apply to boards placed on the market solely for the purpose of suitable coating – provided it is ensured that this board complies with the required value once it has been coated.

Apart from this exception, the question of whether the scheme applies does not depend on the intended use.

 

6. What happens to goods in stock after the transition period expires?

The time limit set out in the announcement for the application of previously applicable test methods (“valid until 31.12.2019”) refers to the date on which the wood-based materials were manufactured. This means that coated and uncoated wood-based materials (particleboard, blockboard, veneer board and fibreboard) manufactured until 31 December 2019 will also permanently meet the requirements of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance (also after 31 December 2019), i.e. also for each subsequent market launch, provided that they do not exceed the limit value when the methods referred to in the announcement (BAnz AT 26.11.2018 B2) under "Valid until 31 December 2019” are applied.

 

7. What changes have taken place for furniture?

No changes to the procedure for furniture have taken place. If the furniture manufacturer uses only wood-based materials that comply with the requirements for formaldehyde in accordance with the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance, taking into account the announcement (BAnz AT 26.11.2018 B2), and does not add any additional formaldehyde sources, no additional test chamber measurements are required. A full-body test is possible as per Annex 1 Entry 1 Column 2 paragraph 2 of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance when the furniture contains wood-based materials which do not meet the requirements. The furniture may be placed on the market if it meets the requirements for formaldehyde in accordance with the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance during a full-body test. In a full-body test, box furniture must be tested in an open state, where exterior and interior surfaces are included in the surface calculation (air exchange rate 0.5/h, load 1.8 m2/m3). For the use of goods in stock, see question 6.

 

8. What do companies which want to buy wood-based materials for coating and place them on the market after coating have to consider?

If the company coats wood-based materials that already meet the requirements in their raw state and does not add any further formaldehyde sources, no further tests are required. For the use of goods in stock, see question 6. A different case will apply if the company wishes, for the purpose of applying a suitable coating, to use wood-based materials which, in their raw state, do not comply with the requirements of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance. In this case, the company must ensure compliance with the requirements, if necessary by carrying out tests if it intends to place the products on the market.

 

9. How should the term “placing on the market” be viewed within the meaning of the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance?

Pursuant to Section 3 (9) of the German Chemicals Act (ChemG), placing on the market within the meaning of chemical legislation refers to

  • transfer to third parties,
  • provision for third parties,
  • transfer into the area of application of this regulation (import).

In general, provision for third parties is understood to take place at the beginning of a sales transaction at the latest. Provision for third parties can also take the form of storage. The decisive factor here is whether the actual power of disposal over the product changes from one natural or legal person to another or whether such a change is envisaged. Placing on the market within the meaning of the Chemicals Act covers not only initial placing on the market, but also any further placing on the market.

According to ChemG, the concept of placing the chemical on the market is geographically neutral and therefore includes, in principle, exports to countries outside the scope of ChemG, unless otherwise stated in the individual provisions of chemical legislation. The latter is not the case with the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance.

 

10. If a product is in transit through Germany, is this tantamount to placing it on the market?

Transit within the meaning of Section 3 (8/9) ChemG does not constitute placing on the market and is therefore not subject to the above-mentioned regulations (“A person or entity who is merely involved in shipping goods through Germany under customs supervision is not an importer, provided there is no treatment or processing”).

 

11. Who is responsible for monitoring the rules?

The federal states (Länder) are responsible for monitoring adherence to the rules.

 

12. What requirements do imported wood-based materials and furniture have to meet?

Imported wood-based materials and furniture are subject to the same requirements as products manufactured in Germany (for the requirements, see the answer to question 2). It is the distributor, usually the importer, who is responsible for meeting the requirements.

 

13. What impact will the planned European formaldehyde restriction under REACH have on the Prohibition of Chemicals Ordinance (ChemVerbotsV)?

In January 2019, a proposed restriction on formaldehyde in products subject to REACH was published by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). A consultation process on this issue is currently taking place in the ECHA bodies (RAC, SEAC). However, no final decision at EU level (the Commission with the participation of the Member States) is anticipated for some considerable time.

As soon as a proposal for restriction on formaldehyde under REACH is adopted and becomes legally binding, the provisions under REACH will take precedence over all others. The regulations on formaldehyde in ChemVerbotsV would then have to be adapted accordingly.

 

14. Are new labelling requirements also associated with the introduction of the new test procedure?

No, the new rules do not impose any new labelling requirements.