Only days after a 60 Minutes report on the allegedly high formaldehyde levels in wood products sold by Lumber Liquidators, consumers have filed a potential class action against the company in federal court.
The complaint [PDF], filed today in a U.S. District Court in California, alleges that Lumber Liquidators violated federal and state laws by selling Chinese-manufactured laminated wood products containing formaldehyde at “levels known to pose serious health risks” and in excess of California limits.
The plaintiffs, a family from Santa Clarita, CA, who purchased flooring from Lumber Liquidators, acknowledge that formaldehyde can be safely used in the manufacture of laminated wood flooring, but only if used sparingly so that the chemical dissipates quickly.
But if an excess of formaldehyde is used, it can remain in the laminated wood and gradually be emitted over time. Prolonged, continued exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to numerous health problems ranging from nausea to increased cancer risk.
As shown in the 60 Minutes story, testing on the laminated wood Lumber Liquidated sourced from suppliers in China allegedly contained more formaldehyde than its domestically sourced laminates and similar products sold by competitors.
“Despite this discrepancy, Lumber Liquidators did not differentiate between its domestically manufactured floor laminates and those made in China,” reads the complaint, which points out that the company’s Chinese wood products were even labeled to indicate that they complied with the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) strict formaldehyde emission standards.
“Lumber Liquidators has made false and misleading statements that its flooring products comply with CARB formaldehyde standards, and the even more stringent European formaldehyde standards,” continues the complaint. “Lumber Liquidators’ website falsely states, ‘we not only comply with laws-we exceed them.'”
The plaintiffs, who claim the Lumber Liquidators wood they purchased was falsely labeled as CARB compliant, are seeking to represent all California customers of the store who also purchased the Chinese-made laminated wood.
The suit alleges violation of the federal Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, claiming the company “breached their warranties by manufacturing, selling and/or distributing flooring products with levels of formaldehyde that exceed the CARB standards, or by making affirmative representations regarding CARB compliance without knowledge of its truth.”
Lumber Liquidators is also accused of the California Business and Professions Code’s prohibitions against “unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business act or practice,” false advertising. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that misrepresenting the CARB certification of the wood violates the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
The plaintiffs seek an injunction against Lumber Liquidators preventing them from selling wood that violates CARB standards, restitution for the expense of purchasing and installing the flooring in question, and unspecified damages.
In response to last weekend’s story, Lumber Liquidators issued a defense on its Facebook page, describing the company as “a leader in safety.”
“We comply with applicable regulations regarding our products, including California standards for formaldehyde emissions for composite wood products – the most stringent rules in the country — and take our commitment to safety even further by employing compliance personnel around the world and utilizing the latest in cutting-edge technology to provide our customers with top quality and high value flooring,” reads the statement, which claims that the news reports are being fueled by “a small group of short-selling investors who are working together for the sole purpose of making money by lowering our stock price.”
The company maintains that random third-party testing of its products shows the laminated wood to be “fully safe and compliant with California standards.”
“While we were unable to witness 60 Minutes’ testing methods and have still yet to see a test using validated methods that has come back as anything but completely safe, out of an abundance of caution, we are now reviewing our processes at these three mills,” concludes the statement. “We stand by every single plank of wood and laminate we sell all around the country and will continue to deliver the best product at the best price to our growing base of valued customers.”