What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring, colorless, strong
smelling gas used in many household products including paints, varnishes, adhesives,
cleaning products, and cosmetics. It is the key ingredient to many plastic resins
such as phenol formaldehyde and urea formaldehyde – both commonly used as finishing
treatments for many textiles and paper products, and in many building materials
such as plywood and MDF. It is perhaps most commonly known as the chemical used
in embalming. Other known sources include cigarette smoke and the burning of fossil
fuels such as kerosene. There are trace amounts of naturally-occurring formaldehyde
in wood itself. Even people off-gas a little formaldehyde!
Why should I be worried?
While off-gassing will happen, it's important to know exactly how much is too much.
This is measured in parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb).
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), average levels for formaldehyde in outdoor air are
roughly 3 ppb while indoor air can range from 17- 332 ppb with 300 ppb considered
a "higher" normal level. Acute health symptoms often arise when exposure is near
800 ppb, but sensitive and allergic individuals often experience problems when levels
are only at 100 ppb.
What does it do?
More than 90% of inhaled formaldehyde is absorbed into the upper respiratory tract
causing mild symptoms such as burning and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat,
asthma, nausea, dizziness, headaches, memory impairment, and breathing problems.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
has identified formaldehyde as a "known human carcinogen" and in cases of prolonged
exposure it has been linked to a rare type of nasopharyngeal cancer, and to some
instances of myeloid type leukemias.
For more information visit the CDC and
How long has this been an issue?
In 1982 the U.S. Consumer Products Commission banned the use of UFFI insulation
in homes due to its high levels of formaldehyde emissions. Since 1985 HUD has required
pressed wood products within manufactured homes to emit no more than 0.3 ppm. However,
in the past two years formaldehyde made headlines again after victims of hurricane
Katrina began experiencing adverse health effects in connection with the high levels
found within their FEMA issued trailers.
This in turn has prompted an even more stringent demand on the need for emission
guidelines. On January 1, 2009, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) enacted
new standards limiting emissions to 0.21 ppm for MDF, 0.18 ppm for particleboard,
and 0.08 for hardwood plywood. These standards are slated to lower emissions even
further by 2010.
What can I do?
Many materials cease to off-gas after a number of years, emitting the highest levels
when new. Materials made using cheap manufacturing processes (such as those commonly
imported from Asian countries) can often have even higher amounts of formaldehyde.
Additionally, increased humidity, temperature, and a lack of proper ventilation
can also increase emissions.
The best way to reduce your exposure is by eliminating it at the source. Using no
added urea formaldehyde products, such as PureBond®,
ensures that you're making the smartest choice for your home and family.
Next: PureBond® : The Simple