Report: Laminate wood flooring risk was underestimated by CDC

There is a new report out Tuesday from the CDC National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  It is an update of a report issued on February 10, 2016.  Alex Alexiev wrote about this error in a microBEnet post: CDC Error in Flooring Report. For more on the corrected report see:

Some key parts of the CDC statement:

On February 12, CDC/ATSDR was notified that a private individual who reviewed the report suspected that a conversion error might have been made. CDC/ATSDR staff reviewed the report and discovered that an incorrect value for ceiling height was used in the indoor air model. As a result, the health risks were calculated using airborne concentration estimates about 3 times lower than they should have been. Neither CDC/ATSDR nor the report’s peer or partner reviewers or reviewers noticed the error.

It seems like they are trying to say “it is not really our fault – our peer and partner reviewers missed this too.” I am not so impressed with this.  No apology.  No comment about how this was missed.  Better than not correcting the error, certainly, but close to a “sorry – not sorry” kind of statement.

This lack of any apology is a bit troubling since they do in fact conclude that this new value leads to new conclusions in regard to short term health and long term health.

They do state that “our recommendations remain the same” in regard to the flooring and specifically:

we continue to recommend that people with the affected laminate flooring:

  • Reduce exposure –  We provide information on how residents can reduce exposure to sources of formaldehyde in their homes

  • See a doctor for ongoing health symptoms — We recommend that residents who have followed the steps to reduce formaldehyde in their homes and still have ongoing health symptoms (breathing problems or irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat) only in their homes, should see a doctor to find out what is causing the symptoms.

  • Consider professional air testing if irritation continues.

They then go on to say a bit about what they did both to make sure the new revised report is accurate:

To ensure the accuracy of the revised report, CDC/ATSDR spent five weeks taking these steps:

  • Updating  the model parameters and re-running the indoor air model

  • Double-checking the model against other air models

  • Conducting a quality review of the revised results

  • Re-evaluating the possible health implications

  • Requesting peer review of the revised report by outside experts and experts from CPSC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Addressing these peer reviewers’ comments

  • Revising communication materials to ensure affected people understand the new results.

It would be nice to know a bit more about these steps.  It would also be useful to know a bit more about why everyone involved missed the mistake earlier and how the mistake was made in the first place.  But … I guess this is good that they corrected the mistake relatively quickly and that they listened to this “private individual” (though I am not quite sure what that description means). 

3 thoughts on “Report: Laminate wood flooring risk was underestimated by CDC

  1. Please, please, please don’t use grey font. It makes it very difficult to read what is posted. This is important information, so I struggled through it, but I often give up when faced with grey font.

  2. The solutions options also seem to not really get at the bigger issue. The way I see it, we should find a different way to make laminate flooring or some alternative that isn’t this dangerous. It’s not exactly easy to “reduce exposure” when the flooring is indoors, where people spend most of their time (in the case of work, it’s even out of necessity).

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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.