Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong smelling gas that has been listed as a probable human carcinogen. Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by our industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. According to the EPA, during the 1970s many homeowners had Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) installed in the wall cavities of their homes as an energy conservation measure. However, many of these homes were found to have relatively high indoor concentrations of formaldehyde soon after the UFFI installation. Few homes are now being insulated with this product. Studies show that formaldehyde emissions from UFFI decline with time; therefore, homes in which UFFI was installed many years ago are unlikely to have high levels of formaldehyde now.
Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.
Formaldehyde is difficult to avoid because it is also in hundreds of products such as cosmetics, paper, wood, clothes, mouthwash, hair spray, cleaning products, perfumes, waxes, shampoo, nail polish, and many more. As a matter of fact, formaldehyde is often listed under different names making it difficult to avoid. One of the most common names for formaldehyde-releasing preservative is Quanternium-15. However, there are also numerous of alternative names so sticking to natural products with the fewest ingredients are always your best bet. The average concentrations in older homes without Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) are generally below 0.1(ppm). In homes with significant amounts of new pressed wood products, levels can be greater than 0.3 ppm.
Symptoms: Exposure to higher levels of formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include headaches, rashes, hives, heart palpitations, ear infections, memory loss, depression, and much more.
How to reduce formaldehyde contamination:
- Remove or limit sources: Source removal is the most effective solution; however it requires precise identification of the sources of formaldehyde. Paneling, furniture, or carpeting with formaldehyde contaminants can be removed and replaced with natural fiber materials. UFFI and particleboard flooring may be too difficult or costly to remove.
- Improve indoor air quality with air purifier: An air purifier will remove contamination particulates, chemicals and gases using High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) air filtration for the tiny particles and a carbon composition for the chemical and gases. Not all purifiers remove formaldehyde so be careful when purchasing an air purifier. Activated carbon is considered the best way to remove formaldehyde from the air. This is because the carbon filter is the most absorbent filter that captures chemical fumes, gases, cigarette smoke and odors. Those with concerns about removing allergens, dust, and bacteria should combine the carbon filter with a HEPA filter. Removing all formaldehyde sources from the home should be the first step. But often that is simply not possible. Thus, an air purifier will be the next best solution in removing formaldehyde contaminants from the air.
Read Next: What are Volatile Organic Compounds?