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Vol. 2008-7 | July, 2008

Formaldehyde; Boon or Bane?

Consumer concerns within the past few years have recognized and addressed the serious, adverse health effects of formaldehyde present in many household products. These include pressed wood products such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard, glues and adhesives. Particle boards, widely used in the manufacture of cabinetry, may be composed of cellulose and wood chips, compressed into boards, all manufactured using urea formaldehyde resin. Pressed wood products containing formaldehyde resins are also a frequent and significant source of formaldehyde in homes.

Concerns about even low levels of gases emanating from products are now being well documented. Formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

While seemingly harmless, manufactured products using formaldehyde tend to release low levels of formaldehyde gas or vapor into the air over long periods of time. Frequently undetected in low level concentrations, it can still produce adverse or harmful health effects from exposure over long periods of time. This gas is colorless but strong smelling in high concentrations.

When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm (one-tenth parts per million), some individuals may experience adverse health effects including: watery eyes; burning sensations of the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are not highly sensitive to formaldehyde presence, while others, including infants, young children and the elderly, can experience serious effects to such exposure over time. The EPA recommends the use of “exterior-grade” pressed wood products and insulation materials, to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home. Before purchasing pressed wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture, buyers should inquire about the formaldehyde content of these products. Formaldehyde levels in homes can also be reduced by ensuring adequate ventilation, moderate temperatures, and reduced humidity levels through the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can provide information about household products containing formaldehyde. The CPSC may be contacted at: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 4330 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814-4408.

“It is when we try to grapple with another man’s intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun.”

Lord Jim, Chapter 16.
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

AUTHOR / EDITOR: J. NORMAN STARK is an Attorney-at-Law, a Registered Architect, (AIA, NCARB) Registered Landscape Architect, Interior Designer, Planner and Senior Appraiser (ASA), admitted to practice law before the Bar of Ohio, the US District Courts, Ohio and Illinois (Central Dist.), the US Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. He is a Mediator, Arbitrator and Litigator with experience in Business, Construction Law, and Public Works, and with additional experience in Real Estate, Construction Attorney (Legal Project and Crisis Management), and as an Expert Witness (Forensic Architect). His office is in Cleveland, Ohio.