Formaldehyde is a colorless and odorless gas. The inhalation of air contaminated with formaldehyde could bring respiratory issues, for example, hacking, bronchitis, chest pains and wheezing. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause injuries in the lungs, conceivably causing unsalvageable harm to the lungs and even cancer. Limiting exposure is extremely important, but knowing where to look is just the first step.

Some common places where formaldehyde is still used:

  • Particleboard, hardwood plywood paneling, medium density fiberboard
  • Products that contain phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resins 
  • Softwood plywood, flake or oriented strand board
  • Pre-finished engineered flooring
  • Insulation
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Paints and coatings
  • Textiles
  • Disinfectant cleaning products and soaps
  • Preservatives
  • Personal care products, especially certain hair products
  • Cosmetics
  • Pet care products
  • Bactericides and fungicides
  • Combustion byproduct (burning)
  • Tobacco smoke and fuel-burning appliances (gas stoves, kerosene space heaters and fireplaces)

If any of the items look familiar, it may be time to test. One of the most effective ways to detect Formaldehyde is through an air test. Using the example below from Prism Analytical Technologies, results for this air sample are displayed on the chart as a yellow circle. The blue curved line represents the relationship between the percentage of homes (indicated on the vertical y-axis) and formaldehyde concentration (indicated on the horizontal x-axis). The green, yellow, orange, and red vertical bars represent divisions between Low, Moderate, Elevated, and high formaldehyde concentrations.

Reducing Formaldehyde Exposure

According to the EPA, As of June 1, 2018, and until March 22, 2019, composite wood products sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported in the United States were required to be labeled as CARB ATCM Phase II or TSCA Title VI compliant. Being aware of what a high and low count of indoor air formaldehyde may sound complex but there are several guidelines different associations recommend.  Government specialists recommend formaldehyde concentrations cannot surpass 100-120 ng/L (80-100 sections for each billion or ppb) and 50-60 ng/L (40-50 ppb) for short term and longer term exposures, individually. A few associations or government specialists suggest more stringent levels for longer term exposures. All in all, formaldehyde exposure should be kept as low as possible.

Preventing formaldehyde is much easier said than done. However, there are simple ways to reduce your chance of exposure. Whenever possible, read labels and any disclosures to see how the product you’re buying is made. 

There are several air purifiers on the market that can help reduce certain toxins including formaldehyde. Make sure the air purifier has carbon filtration to absorb formaldehyde and other VOCS. Here is a great website that further explains air purification:

Another way to reduce your exposure is switching to natural, non-toxic household cleaners and other products like laundry detergents, shampoos, lotions, etc. It’s crucial to read labels and look for products that are biodegradable and non-toxic. An easy way to do this is finding products that are vegan. 

See Items Without Formaldehyde:

See Items With Formaldehyde:

Testing for Formaldehyde should always be considered as part of the environmental  assessment.  This will help identify possible sources of the Formaldehyde. 

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