Formaldehyde – a dangerous chemical

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Courtesy of Atlantic Environmental, Inc.

It’s amazing all the places that formaldehyde is found.  It’s best known uses are in insulating material and particleboard.  The most publicized use has been in manufactured homes and mobile homes.  FEMA has been overwhelmed with actions related to exposure to formaldehyde in temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina survivors, and other disasters.

There are both short term and long term exposure problems from formaldehyde.  The primary problem is inhalation of the chemical but it is also known to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.  EPA has listed formaldehyde as a suspect human carcinogen (cancer causing substance).  Animal studies have shown an increase in nasal cell cancer and some limited human studies have shown an increased incidence of nasal and lung cancers.

In addition to insulation and particleboard, formaldehyde is found in many, many other locations.  This includes cosmetics (major cosmetic suppliers even advertise “formaldehyde free” cosmetics), permanent press resins in clothing and draperies, glues, adhesives, paint preservatives, tobacco smoke, photo development chemicals, tissue preservative (medical school cadavers and preserved specimens), disinfectants and agricultural products.

Several agencies worldwide have established recommended safe levels of formaldehyde which vary significantly depending on the group exposed (workers or general public) and their ability to change the acceptable levels as new knowledge becomes available.

The testing is not difficult, but interpreting the results requires considerable expertise.

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