Risks of Formaldehyde Exposure: A Chemical Widely Used in Industrial Manufacturing and a Known Carcinogen

Risks of Formaldehyde Exposure A Chemical Widely Used in Industrial Manufacturing and a Known CarcinogenFormaldehyde, a colorless and flammable gas with a distinctive odor resembling pickles, is extensively utilized in industrial manufacturing. It can also be found in numerous household items. At TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, we aim to shed light on the potential risks associated with formaldehyde exposure and offer practical suggestions for minimizing such exposure.

Where Formaldehyde Comes from?

Formaldehyde is naturally produced by animals, plants, and humans in small amounts. It is also a byproduct of combustion, such as burning natural gas, gasoline, wood, kerosene, or tobacco.2 Additionally, formaldehyde is used in various industries to manufacture materials and preserve products.

People are primarily exposed to formaldehyde through inhalation. Products containing formaldehyde can release chemicals such as a gas or vapor into the air. It can also be absorbed through the skin or ingested through foods and drinks.

Formaldehyde Sources

Formaldehyde is commonly found in the following products:

  • Glues and adhesives
  • Pressed-wood products (plywood, particleboard, and fiberboard)
  • Insulation materials
  • Fertilizers
  • Antiseptics and medicines
  • Cosmetics
  • Cleaning products
  • Smoke from cigarettes, gas stoves, or open fireplaces

Even products that do not use formaldehyde as an ingredient may contain substances that release the chemical. This is sometimes the case with soaps, cosmetics, shampoos, and sunscreens.4

Who Is Exposed to Formaldehyde?

Professionals who may be at risk for formaldehyde exposure include:5

Is Formaldehyde Exposure Dangerous?

The level of danger associated with formaldehyde exposure depends on the dose, duration of exposure, and the nature of the work being done. While research suggests that formaldehyde is not harmful at low levels, even low amounts can trigger unwanted symptoms in some individuals.5 Prolonged exposure to higher levels of formaldehyde can lead to more severe health consequences.

According to the National Cancer Institute, when formaldehyde is present in the air at levels higher than 0.1 parts per million (ppm), some people may experience side effects such as watery eyes, burning sensation in the eyes, nose, or throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation.

Are Some People More Sensitive to Formaldehyde?

Some individuals may be more sensitive to the effects of formaldehyde, particularly young children, older adults, and those with asthma or other respiratory problems.3

Formaldehyde and Cancer Link Exposure to formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Some studies suggest that exposure to high levels of formaldehyde in the workplace may be linked to certain types of cancer in humans, although it is unclear whether exposure to smaller amounts increases the risk.3

Research in humans has indicated an association between formaldehyde exposure and cancer of the nasal sinuses and nasopharynx. Other studies suggest that workers exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, such as embalmers and certain medical professionals, may have an increased chance of developing leukemia.

Based on existing evidence, several national and international agencies have categorized the health risks of formaldehyde as follows:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labels formaldehyde as a “probable human carcinogen.”
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), lists formaldehyde as “carcinogenic to humans.”
  • The National Toxicology Program (NTP), which includes government agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states that formaldehyde is “known to be a human carcinogen.

How to Reduce Formaldehyde Exposure

To minimize exposure to formaldehyde, it is advised to avoid products that contain the chemical and refrain from smoking inside your home. Using exterior-grade pressed-wood products can also help limit formaldehyde exposure.

If you purchase products containing formaldehyde, here are some ways to reduce your exposure:

  • Remove product packaging and allow it to air out before bringing it into your home.
  • Ensure proper ventilation in your home by opening windows or using fans when introducing an item that contains formaldehyde.
  • Lower the temperature and humidity levels in your living space to help reduce formaldehyde release.
  • If you are concerned about high levels of formaldehyde in your home, consider consulting an indoor air-quality consultant or using a test kit to analyze the conditions.

Reducing Exposure in the Workplace Government agencies have established limits on formaldehyde exposure for workers. The average limit for an eight-hour workday is 0.75 parts per million (ppm), and the highest allowable exposure level is 2 ppm, but only for a maximum of 15 minutes.11 Employers are also required to monitor chemical levels and provide necessary equipment, such as respirators and protective clothing, if needed.

Overwhelmed by Avoiding Formaldehyde?

It’s important not to excessively worry about formaldehyde exposure that is beyond your control. For most people, small amounts of formaldehyde do not cause any health problems. However, if you have concerns or experience symptoms related to formaldehyde exposure, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance.

Summary

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas present in building materials and used as a preservative in household products. Even low levels of formaldehyde exposure can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. Prolonged exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can lead to serious health risks, including cancer.

To minimize exposure, avoid products containing formaldehyde and refrain from smoking indoors. Professionals working with higher levels of formaldehyde should take precautions to reduce their exposure. If you have specific concerns, seek guidance from a healthcare professional or an indoor air-quality consultant.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance.

Disclaimer

The blogs presented by TGH Urgent Care in partnership with Fast Track are not a replacement for medical care and are exclusively intended for educational purposes. The content provided here should not be construed as medical guidance. If you are encountering any symptoms, we strongly recommend that you seek an appointment with a duly qualified medical practitioner at our nearest facility.

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