Formaldehyde is a common chemical, found in many households and offices, in such products as carpets, upholstery, glues, dyes, permanent press clothes, markers, paints, and cigarettes (1,4). Formaldehyde-based resins are components of finishes, plywood paneling, fiberboard, and particleboard, all widely employed in mobile and conventional home construction as building materials (subflooring, paneling) and as components of furniture and cabinets (2). It is a colorless gas with a pungent smell that irritates the eyes, nose and throat (1). It has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA (2).
Airborne formaldehyde acts as an irritant to the conjunctiva and upper and lower respiratory tract. Symptoms are temporary and, depending upon the level and lengths of exposure, may range from burning or tingling sensations in eyes, nose, and throat to chest tightness and wheezing. Acute, severe reactions to formaldehyde vapor - which has a distinctive, pungent odor - may be associated with hypersensitivity. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population, including asthmatics, may have hyperreactive airways which may make them more susceptible to formaldehyde's effects (3).
In new buildings or buildings which have been recently refurbished, formaldehyde levels from furniture and furnishings may be high enough to cause signs of irritation. Good ventilation will ensure that formaldehyde fumes remain at a level at which no symptoms occur. In some buildings or vehicles which have large amounts of particle board and other formaldehyde-containing material, such as mobile homes and motor homes, levels may remain high for a long time, so good ventilation is essential (4).
The following are some very informative external links that pertain to Formaldehyde:
1. American Lung Association Fact Sheet - Indoor Air Pollution, August 1997 URL: http://www.lungusa.org/global/news/report/viron/virindapfac.html
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation. Report to Congress on Indoor Air Quality, VolumeII: Assessment and Control of Indoor Air Pollution, pp. I, 4-14. EPA-400-I-89-001C, 1989.
3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Public Health
Service, and National Environment Health Association.
Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: A Reference Manual, p.87. EPA-400-3-91-003, 1991.
4. Environmental Health Service Health Department of Western Australia, How Safe is the Air in Your Home? 1995 URL: http://www.public.health.wa.gov.au/ehs38.htm#Volatile
This Page prepared by B.T. Johnson, November 1997 UCD EXTOXNET FAQ Team.