New law targets latest health menace -- and it's in your living room

President Obama recently signed a law aimed at reining in the latest health menace -- formaldehyde in wood often used in sofas, cabinets and other home furnishings.

The president's move came after the World Health Organization determined that formaldehyde, which is often used in wood for furniture, is carcinogenic, and the Environmental Protection Agency advised that overexposure to the chemical complicates breathing, irritates the eyes and causes nausea.
The unfortunate result of the legislation is that the plush sectional set you've been eyeing will probably carry a higher price tag in the future. Without formaldehyde as a cheap additive in the glue to fasten particleboard, a pressed-wood filler in lower-priced furniture, manufacturers will lose their profit cushion, according to USA Today.

"We're hearing from suppliers of particle board that the costs will increase, and that's likely to be passed along," Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, told the newspaper. Prices could rise anywhere from 3% to 15%, according to estimates Counts has heard. Part of the increase will be due to the research and development costs generated by companies searching for alternatives, he said. A spokesperson for the Sierra Club Formaldehyde Campaign told USA Today, however, that consumers will experience little discomfort at the cash register while resting easier that they're not inhaling a potential killer. Formaldehyde turns to gas at room temperature, and can be more dangerous in poorly-ventilated spaces.

Formaldehyde recently made news when it was learned that some of the government-subsidized trailers being used to house workers for the BP oil spill clean up contained formaldehyde in the walls. The trailers were banned years ago when the Hurricane Katrina homeless who were living in them developed respiratory illness.

Despite an outcry from safety and environmental advocates, the time it takes for action from the President's desk to the desks being built in factories could take a while. In fact, it will require about three years for manufacturers and retailers to conform to the new standards, USA Today reported. The EPA will determine what the standards will be and when they will be enforced. California already has a law that reins in the use of the chemical in furniture, ordering stores to comply by the end of 2011.

The negative publicity surrounding formaldehyde has increased consumer Interest in furniture that is formaldehyde-free -- and usually more expensive. The Origins brand has boosted sales in the last month, a spokesman told USA Today. Furnishings giant Home Depot might also benefit because it carries another line called Young Furniture that does not contain formaldehyde.
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