Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a chemical that is released into a pungent gas. It is both a good preservative and makes an excellent adhesive. Therefore, it is used widely in the building and furnishings industries. Particleboard is the major contributor of formaldehyde to the home environment.

The culprit is the adhesive, urea formaldehyde, which can break down, releasing the formaldehyde. Phenol formaldehyde (used in exterior panels) does not present problems. Some particleboard is now manufactured with reduced formaldehyde.

Other sources of formaldehyde include:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Interior plywood
  • Veneered or laminated furniture and cabinets
  • Some professionally applied furniture and floor finishes
  • Paneling
  • Permanent press fabrics (some drapes)
  • Combustion products
  • Cosmetics

Symptoms of Formaldehyde Exposure

In Low Doses:

  • Watery eyes
  • Burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea

In Larger Doses

  • Asthma attacks
  • Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
  • Some people are highly sensitive and react to formaldehyde concentrations that don't bother most people

Reduce Your Exposure to Formaldehyde

  • Formaldehyde cannot penetrate plastic laminate and is at least partly blocked by coatings.
  • Use "exterior-grade" pressed-wood products (lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
  • High humidity and elevated temperatures cause formaldehyde release, so you might want to control humidity through air conditioning and dehumidifiers.
  • Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.
  • When remodeling and in new construction, select low-formaldehyde materials.

For further information on formaldehyde and consumer products, contact:

EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA)
202-554-1404

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