Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Danger of Formaldehyde

I started to become more conscious about this chemical when I searched for a new bed for my kids. The presence of formaldehyde in the environment seems to be unavoidable and it concerns me. I discovered that it can be found even in children’s clothes, in bedding sheets, and so on. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen; Europe banned the use of it last year while U.S. doesn’t even bother to consider it although it is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Besides the fact that it occurs naturally, formaldehyde is found in many products that are part of our daily lives and therefore, a total avoidance is almost impossible. I will try to come up with a list of products containing formaldehyde and some recommendations on how to reduce exposure.

Where is found
  • glue or adhesives in pressed-wood furniture in household furnishing
  • in foam used in furniture and in construction (urea-formaldehyde foam and fiberglass insulation). To note: Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation installed 5 to 10 years ago is unlikely to still release formaldehyde the building industry (to water – and grease-proof concrete and plaster)
  • film processing
  • textile treatment – especially in carpeting and as a permanent press fabric finishes (e.g., draperies) but it can be found in clothes too
  • leather tanning
  • cosmetics and medications - as a preservative (especially in nail polish), mouthwash, spermatocide cream, skin disinfectants, and cough drops
  • air fresheners
  • disinfectant (especially in mattresses) and fumigants
  • vinyl products
  • burning materials: cigarettes, kerosene, wood, and natural gas
  • paints - as a preservative
  • coated paper products
How to reduce exposure to formaldehyde
  • Ventilate well your house. The levels of formaldehyde are higher inside the house than outside. This is the easiest to do.
  • Avoid cosmetics that contain formaldehyde – for nail polishes, there are already many alternatives; avoid the air fresheners completely – besides formaldehyde they contain other substances that are dangerous for your health.
  • Wash the durable-press fabrics before use. Actually, it is always wise to wash any fabric before use.
  • Avoid vinyl products – they usually contain many more chemicals.
  • Avoid staying next to the open fire (on the grill or in the fireplace) and avoid smoking (including second-hand smoking).
  • Chose paints that have low or 0-VOCs levels.
  • When purchasing new furniture make sure it is not glued with formaldehyde-based glue and is not coated with paints containing the formaldehyde. If you are looking for a totally green option, make sure is Greenguard certified or it has the Green Seal on it.
  • Avoid the use of insulation containing formaldehyde, especially urea-formaldehyde foam insulation. If you have formaldehyde-containing products that are not laminated or coated – you can use some low/no VOC, formaldehyde-free paint or varnish to coat the furniture. However, make sure you ventilate well the area during and after coating.
  • Try to remove from your home those products that release formaldehyde in the indoor air

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