What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde, or HCHO, is a colorless, flammable gas with a pungent odor. It is used in the production of pressed wood products (urea resins in plywood wall paneling, particleboard, and fiberboard), fertilizer, permanent press products and other textiles, paper, and glues. It is also produced during the burning of organic materials and is a part of tobacco smoke.
How can I be exposed to formaldehyde?
- Environmental air pollution, smog.
- Cigarette smoke and other tobacco products.
- Gas cookers and open fireplaces.
- Working in industries which use formaldehyde (such as factories or laboratories).
- Off gassing from manufactured wood products used in new mobile homes.
- Household sources, such as fiberglass, carpets, permanent press fabrics, paper products, and some cleaners.
How can formaldehyde affect my health?
Exposure to formaldehyde can cause eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation. It can also cause wheezing and coughing, headache, nausea, and severe allergic reactions. People with asthma or other respiratory problems may be more sensitive to the effects of inhaling formaldehyde. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde after routinely being exposed to low levels of it over a period of time (these people developed asthma symptoms and skin reactions). Formaldehyde has also been show to cause cancer in animals and is listed as a probable human carcinogen, meaning that it may cause cancer in people.
How can I reduce my exposure to formaldehyde?
- Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (they don't emit as much formaldehyde gas because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
- Formaldehyde levels are usually higher indoors than outdoors. Increase ventilation by opening windows and using fans to bring fresh are indoors, especially after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.
- Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
- Seal unfinished manufactured wood surfaces.
- Wash permanent press clothing before wearing.
- Don't use unvented heaters indoors.
- Don't smoke indoors.
Content Source: Environmental Toxicology Program, Indoor Air Quality Program