AIHA Formaldehyde Resource Center

Published April 21, 2015
Formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring organic compound that can be in gas or liquid form. In widespread use, formaldehyde's toxicity, and volatility make exposure a significant consideration for human health.
 
As such, AIHA provides the following resources for informational purposes. Determination of whether and/or how to use any or all of the following information is made at your sole and absolute discretion. This material is voluntarily provided and neither AIHA nor its affiliates shall have any liability based on use of any of the information herein.

 
 
 
 
 

Frequently Asked Questions - Formaldehyde

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in the manufacturing of many building materials and household products. At low airborne concentrations, typically encountered in homes and other non-industrial settings, formaldehyde has little or no odor.

Formaldehyde is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. It is also used in the manufacture of many other common products such as household cleaners, paints, textiles, landscape and yard products, personal care products, and pesticides.
 
Formaldehyde can be released into the air by automobiles, cigarettes, burning wood, kerosene, or natural gas. It is present at low levels in ambient outdoor air (higher in cities, lower in rural areas). Formaldehyde also occurs naturally. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.

How does formaldehyde get into my home?

Very low “trace” quantities of airborne formaldehyde are present in almost every home due to the products, materials, and other sources mentioned above. After building materials containing formaldehyde are installed, formaldehyde may be released over time as the products age resulting in some concentration of formaldehyde in the air. This release depends on many factors, including: the formaldehyde content of the product(s), the amount of the product installed, and the type and amount of ventilation in the home. This release is typically greatest when the product is new and the airborne concentrations of formaldehyde subside over time.

Why does it matter if I am exposed to airborne concentrations of formaldehyde?

Exposure to elevated airborne concentrations of formaldehyde may result in headaches or irritation of the throat and eyes. In certain instances, exposure to elevated airborne concentrations of formaldehyde may also cause respiratory issues, including asthma. Exposure over a long period of time has been associated with cancer in humans. People are affected differently by exposure to elevated airborne concentrations of formaldehyde. Typically the greatest concern is for children and the elderly. At low concentrations, some individuals may experience adverse health symptoms while others may not. 

How can I reduce airborne formaldehyde concentrations in my home?

The best way to reduce airborne concentrations of formaldehyde in your home is to limit the products that contain formaldehyde. Extremely low “background” concentrations of airborne formaldehyde are found in almost every home as a result of the many building materials in homes and by the products used on a daily basis. As temperature and humidity go up in the home, the amount of formaldehyde released from a product or building material may also increase. Providing adequate ventilation by opening doors and windows and by using fans to circulate fresh air can help to lower concentrations of formaldehyde in the air. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help to lower the temperature and humidity levels, thereby mitigating the effects of formaldehyde.

How do I test for the presence of formaldehyde in the air?

If you have concerns about formaldehyde concentrations, AIHA recommends that you hire an industrial hygienist or trained professional to conduct air sampling. After samples are collected, the industrial hygienist will ensure that they are sent to a qualified, accredited lab to test for the presence of formaldehyde. The industrial hygienist will provide an explanation of the lab results so that you understand what they mean for your home.
 
If you decide to use a home screening test kit to collect a sample, make sure that the samples collected are sent to a qualified, accredited laboratory to test for the presence of formaldehyde. These kits typically contain a small formaldehyde sampler, known as a dosimeter. Be sure to follow all instructions provided with the sampler, and send the device promptly to the laboratory when sampling is complete.

How do I find a consultant or expert to help me?

AIHA recommends that you rely on industrial hygienists and trained professionals to conduct sampling, arrange for proper testing, and develop approaches to reduce risks from formaldehyde exposure. These qualified professionals can also be consulted to help you identify a qualified, accredited laboratory, and more importantly, they can properly interpret the results you will receive from the testing laboratory. The AIHA Consultants Listing is a resource that can be used to identify industrial hygienists and other trained practitioners in your area. 
 
Questions to ask the consultant you may consider hiring include:
  • Are you a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or a trained professional with a background in indoor air quality?
  • Do you use only labs accredited for the analysis of formaldehyde?
  • Do you have specific experience in addressing formaldehyde issues in homes?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” AIHA recommends that you find another consultant.

Why an industrial hygienist?

An industrial hygienist anticipates health and safety concerns in workplaces and homes, and they design solutions to prevent hazards. They are the guardians of your workplace and your home. Industrial hygienists apply science to identify and solve health and safety problems, and have extensive experience in assessing, interpreting, and reducing exposures in a wide range of settings.

How do I find a qualified laboratory to test formaldehyde?

AIHA recommends that after collection, all types of formaldehyde air samples be sent to a qualified, accredited laboratory. To determine if you are sending sample to the right laboratory, ask the following questions:
  • Is the laboratory accredited for testing to the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005?
  • Do the laboratory’s accredited test methods cover the analysis of formaldehyde air samples, including the analysis of passive dosimeter badges?
    • a.  If yes, is the passive dosimeter validated for performance?
  • If the laboratory provides formaldehyde samplers, does the laboratory also provide complete written instructions on how to use the formaldehyde sampler, including how to return the device for analysis?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” AIHA recommends that you find another lab.

What is an accredited laboratory?

An accredited laboratory is one that has demonstrated its quality assurance and technical competence according to ISO/IEC 17025:2005. AIHA’s affiliate, AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs, LLC (“AIHA-LAP”), accredits laboratories under its Industrial Hygiene Laboratory Accreditation Program (IHLAP), many of which have testing scopes that include formaldehyde. A list of IHLAP accredited laboratories with each laboratory’s testing scope and certificate can be found at the AIHA-LAP website. Staff at AIHA-LAP can also help locate IHLAP labs with scopes that cover formaldehyde.

Who does AIHA represent?

AIHA is a non-profit, individual membership-based professional society founded in 1939. AIHA provides programs, products, and services to its nearly 10,000 members. Nearly one-half of AIHA members hold a professional certification, most notably the Certified Industrial Hygiene (CIH) certification. AIHA members focus on protection of the health and safety of employees, as well as the broader community and your home.
 

 Additional Resources

 
The following organizations can provide additional resources on formaldehyde that readers may find helpful:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA offers information about the use of formaldehyde in building materials and household products. The EPA can be contacted at:

Office of Radiation and
Indoor Air
Indoor Environments Division
Mail Code 6609J
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20460
202–554–1404 (EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TCSA) Assistance Line)

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

The CPSC has information about household products that contain formaldehyde. CPSC can be contacted at:

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
1–800–638–2772 (1–800–638–CPSC)
301–595–7054 (TTY)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

OSHA has information about occupational exposure limits for formaldehyde. OSHA can be contacted at:

U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20210
1–800–321–6742 (1–800–321–OSHA)