Formaldehyde has a troubled history when it comes to human health. The chemical is used extensively in the manufacturing industry. It’s the main binder and adhesive in many wood products (think particle board). It’s also widely used in the plastics industry, textile finishing, agriculture, and medicine.
So, in a way, formaldehyde is everywhere. This is somewhat worrisome. Consider that formaldehyde gas is listed in the 11th edition of the “Report on Carcinogens” (RoC) as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. Formaldehyde (all physical forms) has also been nominated for possible reclassification in the 12th RoC based on a review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
How prevalent is exposure to formaldehyde? Formaldehyde is so widely used that it has been suggested that occupational exposure to the chemical happens in just about all workplaces. Formaldehyde has been detected in indoor and outdoor air, in treated drinking water, bottled drinking water, surface water, and groundwater, on land and in the soil, and in numerous types of food.
A large number of studies have evaluated the relationship between formaldehyde exposure and cancer in humans. Not only does formaldehyde pose a cancer-risk, but it is also a highly reactive chemical that causes tissue irritation and damage on contact. Formaldehyde can cause upper airway and eye irritation, and neuro-physiological effects such as insomnia, memory loss, mood alterations, nausea and fatigue.
Convinced that it might be a good idea to try to lessen your exposure to formaldehyde? Here are some tips to help you out:
–Don’t let anyone smoke inside your home.
–If you use wood-burning appliances, keep them in good repair. Make sure the chimney is not blocked and that there are no leaks that would let smoke seep into your home. Also, consider installing an “advanced combustion” wood stove or fireplace insert to reduce toxic emissions.
–If you buy furniture or cabinets made from particleboard or medium density fibreboard, try to buy items that are covered with plastic laminate or coated on all sides. Sealing any unfinished sides will also reduce the amount of formaldehyde released by these products. Another option is to look for products made with glues that do not contain formaldehyde.
–Control moisture levels inside your home. When humidity levels are high, products tend to release formaldehyde into the air at a faster rate.
–Wash permanent press clothing and sheets before you use them, and air out such products as permanent press drapes before bringing them into your home.
–If you use consumer products that may contain formaldehyde (see the list earlier in this article), be sure there is adequate ventilation.
–Do not run engines (e.g. vehicles, lawnmowers, snow blowers, etc.) in spaces attached to your home (e.g., a garage or workshop), or near the entrance or windows of your home. Engine exhaust contains a number of toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde.