What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde (HCHO) is an odorless, colorless and carcinogenic molecule.
It has different names that can be found in the design of industrial products:
- Methyl aldehyde
- Methylene oxide
- Morbic acid
Formaldehyde is one of the lightest Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs) present in our indoor environments. It has only one carbon atom and its volatility is very important.
Formaldehyde is ubiquitously found in homes. It is the most common VOC and one of the most toxic (source OQAI), so it is important to carry out an analysis of formaldehyde in indoor air.
What are the sources of formaldehyde?
This pollutant is found in the indoor air because it is emitted by many sources:
- Furniture (glue remover)
- Kitchen or bathroom furniture with wood panels
- Combustions (cigarette, firewood, incense, scented candle ...)
- Building and insulation materials
- Some glues
- Cleaning product
- Product for pets
The temperature and humidity affect the amount of formaldehyde emitted into the air. The increase of these two parameters induces the increase of the release.
Formaldehyde can also result from the reaction of other air pollutants with ozone.
The effects of formaldehyde on health
This molecule is recognized as toxic and it is besides this peculiarity which is used for the conservation of the bodies with its liquid form formol.
The main health effects are irritation of the respiratory tract, burning sensation in the eyes and nausea as well as breathing difficulties. These symptoms can occur even at fairly low concentrations (100 ppb).
Some people are more at risk than others, such as young children with higher breathing rates and their developing bodies, as well as older adults.
What are the laws that surround formaldehyde?
WHO gives a guideline value of 80 ppb (0.08 ppm) for a 30-minute exposure. France proposes a guide value there 24 ppb (ANSES) for a long term exposure. Hong Kong also has a very low value with 25 ppb.
In the US, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets a threshold of 16 ppb.