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Formaldehyde

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.