Formaldehyde Exposure

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas often found in aqueous (water- based) solutions. Commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries. Formaldehyde is also found in many products such as chemicals, household products, i.e. building materials (walls, particle board, plywood, cabinets, furniture, and glues), permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, and fiberboards. It is also widely used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant.

On March 01, 2015, 60 Minutes broadcast disturbing news of its investigation involving Lumber Liquidators’ laminate flooring and unacceptable formaldehyde emissions. According to 60 minutes, it found that formaldehyde samples ranged from 6-20 times greater than the California Air Resource Board (CARB2) standards.

Harmful Effects
Formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent that can cause an immune system response upon initial exposure. It is also a cancer hazard. Acute exposure is highly irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat and can make anyone exposed cough and wheeze. Subsequent exposure may cause severe allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Other symptoms may include sore throat, cough, scratchy eyes, or nosebleeds.

Ingestion of formaldehyde can be fatal, and long-term exposure to low levels in the air or on the skin can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis and itching. Concentrations of 100 ppm are immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers 20 ppm of formaldehyde to be IDLH.

What is an exposure?
Scientists use the words “exposed” or “exposure” to talk about how people come in contact with a substance, such as formaldehyde. Some people are more sensitive than others, so an exposure that causes no problems for some people can make other people sick or uncomfortable. Some of these symptoms also happen with other upper respiratory illnesses, such as colds/flu and seasonal allergies. If you have these symptoms we recommend that you see a doctor or another medical professional. In general, the greater the emissions and longer period of exposure the greater likeliness symptoms may develop. Those less sensitive may not develop symptoms right away.

Linked to Cancer:
Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer. The cancer of greatest concern is cancer of the nose and throat. Scientific research has not yet shown that a certain level of formaldehyde exposure causes cancer. However, the higher the level and the longer the exposure, the greater the chance of getting cancer. Exposure to formaldehyde might increase the chance of getting cancer even at levels too low to cause symptoms.

Routes of Exposure
Occupants or workers can inhale formaldehyde as a gas or vapor or absorb it through the skin as a liquid. They can be exposed during the treatment of textiles and the production of resins. In addition to healthcare professionals and medical lab techni- cians, groups at potentially high risk include mortuary workers as well as teachers and students who handle biological specimens preserved with formaldehyde or formalin. Airborne concentrations of formaldehyde above 0.1 ppm can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. The severity of irritation intensifies as concentrations increase. Higher formaldehyde levels are usually found in newer homes or homes with new construction. The levels decrease over time. Formaldehyde levels also increase with increases in temperature and humidity.

Who’s Most Susceptible:
Formaldehyde exposure is a special concern for children and the elderly. Children may become sensitive to formaldehyde more easily, which may make it more likely they will become sick. Elderly people may be less able to tolerate high formaldehyde exposures. People with asthma, bronchitis, or other breathing conditions are especially sensitive to formaldehyde. People with other chronic diseases also may be less able to tolerate formaldehyde exposure. If children, elderly, or those who may suffer from formaldehyde exposure are in your home, it is important to reduce their exposure to formaldehyde.

If you feel you may have elevated formaldehyde emissions or may be suffering from formaldehyde exposure, be sure to see a doctor and call 413.569.8890 to schedule an appointment for a formaldehyde evaluation.