Credit: U.S.E.P.A. Great Lakes Region 5, Virtual Household Ecology
Formaldehyde, also known as formalin, formal, and methyl aldehyde, is a colorless liquid or gas with a pungent odor. It is generally known as a disinfectant, germicide, fungicide, defoamer, and preservative. Formaldehyde is found in adhesives, cosmetics, deodorants, detergents, dyes, explosives, fertilizer, fiber board, garden hardware, germicide, fungicide, foam insulation, synthetic lubricants, paints, plastic, rubber, textile, urethane resins, and water softening chemicals.
Inhalation of vapors produces irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat and frequently results in upper respiratory tract irritation, coughing, and bronchitis. Asthma may occur in sensitive individuals. Severe exposure to fumes may lead to chemical pneumonia. Skin reactions after exposure to formaldehyde are very common because the chemical can be both irritating and allergy-causing. In addition, formaldehyde is involved in DNA damage and inhibits its repair.
Formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and has been shown to produce mutations and abnormal organisms in bacterial studies. Formaldehyde fumes are liberated from plywood, particleboard, and chipboard, as well as urea formaldehyde foam insulation. Symptoms associated with exposure to formaldehyde fumes include mucous membrane irritation, upper respiratory tract irritation, eye irritation, skin rashes, itching, nausea, stuffy nose, headaches, dizziness, and general fatigue.
Toxicity is primarily related to the presence of formaldehyde gas. Toxicity may be relatively inconspicuous and nonspecific in nature. Patients suffering from formaldehyde toxicity have been misdiagnosed as having asthma, bronchitis, anxiety, depression, or hypochondria. Severe prolonged vomiting and diarrhea in infants may be related to chronic exposure to formaldehyde fumes. An individual may become sensitized to formaldehyde following repeated exposure to these fumes.
If you have any questions or concerns about formaldehyde levels in your home, contact the office of air pollution control, your local or state Department of Health, or the American Lung Association office nearest you.