Why Is Formaldehyde An Issue?

When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 100 ppb, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure.  In addition to the immediate symptoms, formaldehyde is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, known to cause cancer in humans, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

One of the complicating factors in formaldehyde investigations is the variety and number of sources.  There are a surprising number of sources in various building materials, everyday products, and natural processes.

The largest source of formaldehyde in homes is from resins used in adhesives and binders in engineered wood products such as particleboard, plywood, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and oriented strand board (OSB) as well as more wood finished products like engineered flooring.  Other building products, such as insulation, glues and adhesives, and paints and coatings may also contain formaldehyde.  There are also a variety of non-building products that contain formaldehyde such as:

  • cleaning products
  • soaps
  • preservatives
  • cosmetics
  • textiles (e.g., permanent press fabrics)
  • air fresheners
  • pet care products
  • bactericides and fungicides

Formaldehyde is also present in combustion processes, including tobacco and wood smoke and fuel-burning appliances such as gas stoves, kerosene space heaters, and fireplaces.