What’s Wrong with Formaldehyde?

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Formaldehyde is a chemical classified as a VOC, or Volatile Organic Compound, which vaporizes, or off-gases, at room temperature. Urea formaldehyde is of particular concern and is found in the glue/adhesive in pressed wood/particleboard/mdf products (for sub-flooring, shelving, cabinetry, and furniture); and in some paints. It is also released into the air through the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.

Heat and humidity may increase levels of formaldehyde emissions, but levels will generally decrease as products age. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, fatigue, skin rash, severe allergic reactions, and in high concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. It is also a suspected carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of formaldehyde than others.

Here are some things you can do to minimize your risk of exposure:

  • Maintain moderate temperature and humidity levels and provide adequate ventilation in your home
  • Avoid bringing in new sources of formaldehyde
  • Look for building products, furnishings, and paint that are labeled ‘free of urea-formaldehyde’ or contain zero VOCs.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

photo courtesy of Raintree Cabinets

Tag(s): Greening the Home, Hazardous Products / Health Issues


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