Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) which is a colorless, pungent, flammable gas. It is used in making building materials and is found in many household products. National toxicology program (NTP) listed formaldehyde in 2011 as “Known to be a human carcinogen”.
How can you be exposed to formaldehyde indoors at home and work?
Indoor air has shown to contain higher levels of formaldehyde—usually from 0.02-4 parts per million (ppm), while outdoor air contains far lower levels of concentration—only 0.001-0.02 ppm in urban areas.
People are exposed primarily by inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapor from the air or by absorbing liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin.
Workers who work in industries which produce formaldehyde or products that contain formaldehyde are exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde than the general public. Some of the professions where they are exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde are listed below :
- Laboratory technicians specially from pathology departments
- Certain health care professionals
- Workers at beauty salons
- Mortuary employees (formaldehyde is used to preserve bodies)
The general public may be exposed to formaldehyde by breathing contaminated air because of off gassing from building materials and household products and combustion (burning materials including tobacco.
Sources of formaldehyde:
- Glues, paints, floor finishes and varnishes.
- Building materials and insulation.
- Household products such as paper products (hand towels, paper bags), wallpaper, cardboard, permanent press fabrics like drapery.
- Composite wood products (e.g.: furniture) that use glues containing formaldehyde: particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), hardwood plying paneling.
- Tobacco smoke
- Vehicle exhaust from outdoors
- Improperly vented gas or oil burning appliances
- Smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves
- Forest fires
- Some heavily wooded areas
- Candle or incense burning
- Cosmetics like nail varnishes, shampoos, hair straighteners, and nail hardeners.
- Air fresheners, fabric softeners, scented products
Health effects from formaldehyde exposure:
Our homes are made of wood and most furniture items contain wood. These items don’t smell like formaldehyde after a certain time. As more time elapses, the less formaldehyde tends to off-gasses from these products.
Much of off-gassing occurs in the months prior to purchase in the case of building materials. By the time the building material reaches our homes, the rate of off-gassing is lower. Our exposure to the gas is influenced by the circulation of clean air in the home. To reduce the amount of formaldehyde in your air, you can bring in clean air in from outside by opening windows or when that is not possible, such as in the winter months, or use purifiers to remove airborne formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde, even at low levels, has a dangerous impact on our health. Its’ effects are greater on some groups than others, in particular- children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with multiple chemical sensitivities.
- National Cancer Institute researchers have concluded that, based on data from studies on people and from lab research, long term exposure to formaldehyde may cause certain types of cancers.
- Studies show formaldehyde can cause a rare cancer of the nasopharynx, which is the upper part of the throat behind the nose.
- Studies prove that prolonged exposure to formaldehyde has caused severe irritation of the eyes, respiratory system, and the nervous system.
- When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, it may affect the sensitive groups like children, older people, people with respiratory issues like asthma, COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), pregnant women and groups who are sensitive to chemicals. They may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea, nose bleeds and skin irritation.
- A study by researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found a link between exposure to formaldehyde and an increased risk of developing brain diseases such as brain cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
How to lower the exposure to indoor formaldehyde
Short term and long-term exposure to formaldehyde has a lot of negative effects and it can be worrisome to know that it is contained in many household products..
Here are some simple ways to remove formaldehyde and limit your exposure to this toxin:
- Limit or eliminate indoor smoking: Cigarette smoke is a source of formaldehyde.
- Increase the ventilation in offices and homes: Its important to bring in dry and fresh air inside as the formaldehyde concentration is higher indoors than outdoors.
- Choose low emission household products when possible. Check the FDA and CDC websites for lists of low-emission products and branded labeling that indicates this.
- Air out new furniture and pressed wood products. Many consumer products that emit formaldehyde, such as plywood and particle board, release the highest concentrations when they are new. Air them out before installing them or bringing them indoors.
- Wash permanent press clothing before wearing. Formaldehyde is used in the production of special fabrics.
- Limit the use of building materials which off-gas formaldehyde.
Can an air purifier remove formaldehyde?
The Airpura's F600DLX and Airpura F600 contain proprietary activated carbon blends enhanced with powerful oxidizers that remove 99% of airborne formaldehyde. These air purifiers for formaldehyde are also good for thousands of other chemicals, VOC's, gases and odors. True HEPA filters also provide particle reduction.