Formaldehyde exposure in your home

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature and has a strong odor. Exposure to formaldehyde may have adverse effects on your health. The primary way you can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can be omitted from the following:

  • Resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products such as hard wood plywood, particleboard, and laminate flooring
  • Building materials and insulation
  • Household products such as glues, paints, lacquers, and paper products
  • Preservatives used in some medicines, dish-washing liquids and fabric softeners
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Emissions from un-vented, fuel burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene heaters
  • Cigarette smokeformaldehyde

Sometimes, fairly porous products (like sheetrock or carpets) that do not normally contain formaldehyde may absorb it from other sources and release it later. This is more likely to occur if there is a rise in temperature and moisture in the air over a period of time. You can be exposed to formaldehyde by breathing it in the air. Everyone is exposed to formaldehyde at some point. Too much exposure can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. High levels of exposure can even cause some types of cancer.

There are several steps that you can take to reduce exposure to formaldehyde:

  • Increase ventilation – In some cases, this can be done by opening the windows and doors to provide fresh air from the outside. Simple to complex air exchange units or ventilation systems can be purchased to help with air quality problems.
  • Maintain a moderate temperature inside of the building – Using air conditioning to avoid high temperatures and a dehumidifier to reduce amount of moisture in the air may help. High temperature and high humidity are two factors that can increase the amount of formaldehyde gas from certain types of construction materials, products, and furnishings.
  • Reduce your use of products that contain formaldehyde – Choose replacement or new building materials, products, and furnishings that are low in, or do not contain, formaldehyde. Before buying the product, read the ingredients on the label, or get the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the store or company that makes the product.
  • Do careful research before purchasing any “air purifying” or “air cleaning” device – In some cases, the claims of the company that made the product are not supported by scientific or medical research. In addition, the claims may not give complete information about possible side effects of using such equipment.
  • Coat or cover materials that contain formaldehyde with another product to decrease off-gassing – Make sure that the coating product does not contain formaldehyde or other possibly harmful ingredients.
  • Read and follow directions about installation and use of any item containing formaldehyde – For example, if the MSDS or label instructions state, “use…install with adequate ventilation,” then do so. If it is unclear what is meant by “adequate ventilation,” check with the company that makes the product.

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