Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center
Peer Review Status: Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cancer Information Service
Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas. It is used in many ways:
The general public is exposed to formaldehyde gas or vapors when around materials containing formaldehyde. Cigarette smoke and the use of unvented gas stoves, wood burning stoves and kerosene heaters also give off formaldehyde vapors. A 1997 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that formaldehyde is normally present in both indoor and outdoor air at lower levels. Workers who make products containing formaldehyde and laboratory and mortuary employees may be exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde by inhaling fumes and by absorbing liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin.
When formaldehyde is in the air at higher levels, some people will experience watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive; others will have no reaction to the same amount of formaldehyde in the air. These short-term effects of formaldehyde are well known.
It is the long-term health effects of formaldehyde that are less clear. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen in 1987. This was because laboratory studies showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. Since that time, studies of industrial formaldehyde workers suggest that there is an association between nasal cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer. Several National Cancer Institute studies have found that medical laboratory workers and embalmers are at an increased risk for leukemia and brain cancer, compared to the general population.
As a result of these studies, a law has been passed that reduces the amount of formaldehyde to which workers can be exposed over an 8-hour workday.
The EPA also recommends the use of "exterior-grade" pressed wood products to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home. Before purchasing pressed wood products, buyers should ask about the formaldehyde content of the products. Providing adequate ventilation can also reduce formaldehyde levels in homes.
Last modification date:
Mon Aug 7 13:09:58 2006