The dangers of formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is one of the most common components of indoor air pollution. A highly dangerous and toxic substance in regards to human and environmental health, it is important to understand what it is, where it comes from, and the effects it has on our health. Read below to understand more about formaldehyde and how you can protect yourself from its negative health effects.
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a corrosive, colourless, flammable gas with a strong odour. It is an extremely versatile chemical with numerous applications in industry and is thus created in mass quantities for these purposes, but its main use is in creating other industrial chemicals and resins. Some of formaldehyde’s other uses are listed below:
- Adhesives and binders in wood (such as particle board) and paper products, plastics, and coatings in textiles
- Insulation in building construction
- Preservative in cosmetics
- Nail hardening products
- Disinfectant in the health sector, on board ships, and in animal rearing facilities
- Storage and preservation tissue samples in laboratories and museums1
How formaldehyde gets into the environment
Trace amounts of formaldehyde can be found in nature, particularly as a result of combustion of organic materials (i.e. forest or bush fires and volcanic activity). That being said, wood-burning stoves can also create formaldehyde as can emissions from vehicles, smoking, and burning incense.
Formaldehyde is released into the environment in larger amounts through industrial practices and the products created by industry for which formaldehyde is used: clothing, furniture, carpets, lacquers, detergents, and cleaning agents, to name a few1. Therefore, the main source of formaldehyde in our lives by far is everyday objects that release it without our knowledge: couches, carpets, wallpaper, etc.
The risk of formaldehyde is highest in products or construction that are new. Some studies have shown that in new buildings, it may take up to two years for formaldehyde levels to return to normal levels3. In addition to the list above of the main applications of formaldehyde, this chemical can be found in everyday products including carpets, paint, dishwashing liquid, permanent press clothing, and even cosmetic and personal care products like shampoo and make-up4.
Shockingly, that famous ‘new car smell’ that many of us love is actually a cocktail of carcinogens! According to a study at the University of California - Riverside, this smell is caused by the offsetting of both benzene and formaldehyde, both of which can cause cancer and dangers to reproductive and developmental health as you will see in the section below. This can be particularly worrisome for those of us who spend long periods of time driving5.
The dangers caused by formaldehyde
Humans and animals can experience formaldehyde’s harmful effects through direct contact with the above-mentioned products, usually by accidental consumption, touch, or inhalation. As with all chemicals, how, how long, in which form, and the amount to which a person is exposed will determine how severe the effects will be. The follow chart is helpful in understanding and identifying the effects of formaldehyde:
In addition to the above list, formaldehyde is classified as a cancer-causing chemical by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). In people who have been exposed on a long-term basis, it is known to cause nasal tumours and leukaemia.
How to protect yourself from formaldehyde
The best way to protect yourself from the negative effects of formaldehyde is to avoid products in which it can be found. This means searching for products that are natural and eco-friendly, often labelled “No VOC” or “Low VOC” (VOCs are volatile organic compounds, a form of gaseous chemical pollution emitted by every-day products that we use in the home including paints, solvents, furniture, and DIY work). These products will have a label specifying that the product is compliant with the European E1 standard for formaldehyde emissions2.
Also, always maintaining proper ventilation in your home or office by opening windows regularly is a great way to reduce your exposure to formaldehyde. However, opening windows can often encourage outdoor air pollution to enter your space and become trapped inside which is exactly why indoor air is often 7-10 times more polluted than outdoor air. An excellent solution for this is to equip your home or office with an air purifier.
At Eoleaf, we specialise in air purification. Our air purifiers reduce indoor air pollution, including formaldehyde, with top-of-the-line, scientifically-supported filtration methods. Our powerful devices target the three main sources of air pollution: particulate, chemical (including formaldehyde and other VOCs), and biological. Our filters are all HEPA-certified, meaning that they are capable of filtering 99.97% of particles of a size greater than or equal to a diameter of 0.01 µm in a single pass. Our devices filter out all fine particles and pollutants up to PM0.1, germs (bacteria and viruses), moulds and spores, and allergens (pollen, dust and dust mites).
Breathe better air today with Eoleaf. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information to find the device that best suits your needs.
1 Formaldehyde: General information. GOV.UK. (2017, November 16). Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/formaldehyde-properties-incident-management-and-toxicology/formaldehyde-general-information
2 Home Air Check. (2020, July 15). Formaldehyde exposure. HomeAirCheck.co.uk. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://homeaircheck.co.uk/formaldehyde/
3 Talhelm, T. (2018, August 30). How Long Does It Take for Formaldehyde & VOCs to Off-Gas From Your Home? Smart Air. Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/3-things-you-need-to-know-about-formaldehyde-part-two/
4 Should you be worried about formaldehyde? Sylvane. (2021, October 7). Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://www.sylvane.com/blog/should-you-be-worried-about-formaldehyde/
5 Meyer, D. (2021, February 22). Study finds 'new car smell' contains high levels of carcinogens. New York Post. Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://nypost.com/2021/02/22/new-car-smell-contains-high-levels-of-carcinogens-study/