The lowdown on Formaldehyde.
Updated: May 13, 2019
Not all things are created equal. Especially when it comes to household items such as furniture and construction materials. If you were to walk into Home Depot or Lowe’s, nine out of 10 products contains formaldehyde.
Today’s #HappyHomeHappyLife blog post addresses ways to keep your family’s home safe from the harmful effects of formaldehyde.
So why is this dangerous chemical used in so many of our everyday products?
For starters, formaldehyde is best known for its exceptional preservative qualities. It’s widely used as a precursor to many materials and chemical compounds. In fact, in just one year, 8.7 million tons of formaldehyde was used to manufacture industrial resins for building materials, such as particle board and coatings. It’s great for creating strong adhesives cheaply and on massive scales.
Unfortunately,most 'standard' building materials contain formaldehyde
Here’s a short list of items within a home that will off gas formaldehyde fumes to occupants for years after the home is built.
· carpet backing
· carpet padding
· upholstery padding
· pressed fabrics
· treated timber
· wood glue
· quikrete (concrete product)
It’s also in your medicines and vaccines. For example, formaldehyde is used to inactivate viruses so they don’t cause disease, such as the influenza virus in making the influenza vaccine. Many personal care products also contain formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, which act as a preservative to kill microorganisms and prevent growth of bacteria, extending a product’s shelf life.
Even Keratin hair straightening products produce significant levels of offgassing of formaldehyde to dangerous levels, making salons a potentially dangerous place to work.
And yes, you produce formaldehyde too -- in very small minute amounts via metabolic cellular processes. No worries, as our bodies are more than capable of detoxing this negligible amount of chemical. However, chronic indoor formaldehyde exposure can wreak havoc on your body.
A look at how prolonged exposure to formaldehyde impacts health
A few years ago, the US National Toxicology Program assessed this ubiquitous chemical’s uses, toxicity and volatility and determined it poses a significant danger to human health.
Formaldehyde also earned the label “known to be a human carcinogen.”
Formaldehyde is a sensitizer
A sensitizer means that prolonged exposure overtime can lead to humans and pets developing additional allergies and sensitivities.
It doesn’t take much of the stuff to set off a reaction. When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels higher than 0.1 parts per million (ppm), some people experience profound negative health effects, such as:
...burning eyes, nose, throat
...coughing / wheezing
...allergic contact dermatitis (itchy, red rash that can develop blisters)
...asthma / bronchitis
TOP 5 TIPS FOR LIMITING FORMALDEHYDE EXPOSURE AT HOME
Sadly, the manufacturing industry isn’t planning on cutting back on its use any time soon.
So, here’s how you can reduce and/or eliminate your family’s exposure to formaldehyde.
1. Obtain Safety Data Sheets on all Products
When building or remodeling, get an SDS (safety data sheet) for all products you’re planning on putting into your home. This goes for all the products that you’re going to use during construction, such as glues, mastics, etc. Stay clear of products that list VOC’s as hazardous ingredients.
2. VOC’s are Getting a Lot of Attention These Days
And for good reason. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature – meaning large numbers of molecules continually evaporate from the liquid or solid into the air. This process is known as volatility… Harmful VOC’s typically are not acutely toxic but have compounding long-term health effects. With homes being so air tight these days, you bet the continuous off-gassing of formaldehyde can raise to toxic levels. Ask your HVAC technician to install a fresh air intake into your system to ensure continuous flow of fresh air from outside.
3. Low VOC Labels Don’t Indicate a Product is Safe
Low and no VOC doesn't necessarily mean you're in the clear - many still offgas dangerous chemicals. For example, paints and stains are allowed to be labeled zero VOC by law but still may emit ammonia and acetone fumes. Unfortunately, the U.S. EPA is only concerned about outdoor air pollution and isn’t very selective about which chemicals are considered harmful indoors. All AFM Safecoat products are safe to use, including AFM’s line of sealers which effectively create a barrier from offgassing. Dunn-Edwards also has a line of safe products, but their paints do contain algaecides (if you’re sensitive.)
4. Be Diligent About Checking Labels
Formaldehyde can be listed on a product label by other names, such as:
· Formic aldehyde
· Methyl aldehyde
· Methylene glycol
· Methylene oxide
Some chemicals that are used as preservatives can release formaldehyde, such as:
· Diazolidinyl urea
· 1,3-dimethylol-5,5-dimethylhydantoin (or DMDM hydantoin)
· Imidazolidinyl urea
· Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
5. Open Those Windows
Modern day building codes require builders to adhere to very stringent energy code standards. To achieve this, our homes are sealed up tight. So be sure let outside fresh air in to circulate in on a daily basis.
Can I check for levels of Formaldehyde in my own home?
For about $100, Amazon sells the do-it-yourself Home Air Check formaldehyde test kit. You basically follow the instruction, mail off the cartridge to their accredited lab for analysis and receive a report.
An extensive list of everyday household items that contain formaldehyde is available in this interesting article by Mold Busters.
Have a question about formaldehyde and which products are safe to use?
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