Formaldehyde is a commonly used industrial chemical compound used primarily in adhesives or bonding agents used in building materials and consumer products found in homes and offices.  

Some of these products release formaldehyde gas into the indoor air in homes and offices. When present at higher than normal levels, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes, nose and respiratory system of the exposed person.

The major sources of indoor formaldehyde are:

  • Composite wood products that have been made using urea-formaldehyde (UF) adhesive resins including: particleboard used as a component of floors, cabinets, doors and shelvings.
  • Medium density fiberboard also used as a component of cabinets,  furniture and trim.
  • Hardwood plywood wall paneling such as cabinets and furniture (they often appear to be made from solid wood but are more frequently made from pressed woods that are covered with paper or vinyl that have been printed with wood grain finishes).
  • Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), which was installed in some older homes during the late 1970′s and early 1980′s
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    MDF: Medium density fiberboard. Contains formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is not generally used in carpet manufacturing, but carpets can trap formaldehyde emitted by other products in homes and then slowly release it thereafter .  In general, most of these products will emit formaldehyde more strongly when the products are new; emission strengths decline with product age; however, the rate at which product emission rates subside in not well characterized. Dr. Riegel recommends airing out any new carpet prior to installation.

Tobacco smoke contains formaldehyde, and it is also released into the indoor air by poorly vented gas appliances, such as stoves and heaters. Since the mid – 1980′s, however, federal regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have mandated that mobile homes contain lower formaldehyde – emitting pressed wood products and meet improved ventilation standards.

Exposure to formaldehyde vapors can cause:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation such as nosebleeds
  • Coughing
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Formaldehyde has also been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks formaldehyde as a probable  human carcinogen.  However, the most recent EPA estimate of the lifetime cancer risk associated with exposure to formaldehyde in homes is equal or less than 1 chance in a million of developing cancer.

Although anyone can experience systems from exposure to formaldehyde, some appear to be particularly sensitive to it.  Short – term human exposure studies have shown that irritations of the eyes, nose and throat can occur at concentrations as low as 0.10 parts per million (PPM). However, some people who may be especially sensitive to the irritation effects of the gas can react at exposure levels less than 0.10 ppm.  High concentrations may trigger attacks in some people with asthma.

If you have noticed the characteristic pungent, pickle – like odor of formaldehyde in your home or office or if you are experiencing health problems that could be related to the installation of new or large amounts of UF products or other formaldehyde – emitting sources, you may want to confirm that indoor formaldehyde concentrations are the likely cause by testing the air concentration levels to determine if they exceed the 0.10 ppm level. If you experience health problems that may be associated with formaldehyde exposure, a consultation with your family physician is strongly recommended.

How to reduce formaldehyde contamination:

  • Remove or limit sources.  Source removal can be an effective solution, but requires precise identification of the sources of contamination.  Once identified as a source, paneling, furniture or carpeting can be removed; natural fiber materials can be substituted.  However, UFFI and particleboard flooring may be too difficult or costly to remove.  Better yet, informed consumer decisions during home and/or office construction or renovation and during the furnishing stage can prevent problems before they occur.
  • Improve the ventilation systems.  Increasing ventilation is an easy solution, but this allows heat to escape as well.  Air-to-air heat exchange ventilation systems draw in fresh air while also retaining heat. The effectiveness of those systems in reducing formaldehyde levels has not yet been fully determined.

HEPA Purifiers improve indoor air quality and help filter out the gases that formaldehyde emits as time goes by. Available in our Online Store.

Read Glenn Haege’s article on Formaldehyde Stops Gassing After A While

There are many Formaldehyde products found in your home that you maybe using right now, for information on products like make up, nail polish, soaps, cleaning products, furniture click here.