Formaldehyde

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Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes.

Formaldehyde, used in many glues and adhesives, is one of the best known Volatile Organic Compounds, and associated with cancer.

Contents

Sources

Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.

In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products. These are usually manufactured using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Some pressed wood products, such as softwood plywood and flake or oriented strand board, are produced for exterior construction use and contain the dark, or red/black-colored phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resin. Although formaldehyde is present in both types of resins, pressed woods that contain PF resin generally emit formaldehyde at considerably lower rates than those containing UF resin.

Uses

Formaldehyde, by itself or in combination with other chemicals, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products. For example, it is used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies, as a component of glues and adhesives, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products.

Negative Health Effects

Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent-smelling gas. Here are some of the reactions it causes --

  • Watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million).
  • Trigger for asthma
  • Potentially carcinogenic in humans.

How to Avoid High Formaldehyde Levels in your home

  • Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
  • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
  • Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.
  • Ask about the formaldehyde content of pressed wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture before you purchase them.

References

  • Formaldehyde

See Also

  • Volatile organic compounds