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What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas present in a variety of building and
household products. Formaldehyde is commonly used in resins to make pressed wood products
such as particleboard and wood paneling. When these products are used in home construction
or in furniture, they may release formaldehyde into the air.
Formaldehyde is used to make fabrics in permanent-press clothing and draperies, and was
in foam insulation products that were common during the 1970s. Small amounts of
formaldehyde may be released into the air by burning wood, kerosene, natural gas, and from
Formaldehyde in wood products and new construction
People may be exposed to formaldehyde from new wood products used in home construction.
Urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins and phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resins are common in a variety
of construction materials. Wood products made with UF resins give off more formaldehyde
than wood products made with PF resins. UF resins are used in particleboard, hardwood
plywood paneling and medium-density fiberboard. PF resins are used in softwood plywood
paneling and materials produced for exterior construction.
Federal regulations and guidelines restrict the use of some building materials that
give off large amounts of formaldehyde, especially in pre-fabricated and mobile homes.
Formaldehyde emissions from wood products or fabrics decrease as products age. When these
products are new, high temperature and humidity may increase the release of formaldehyde.
What are the effects of exposure to formaldehyde?
When present in air at levels above 0.1 parts per million (ppm), formaldehyde may
irritate the eyes, throat, and nose. Higher levels may be associated with nausea, chest
tightness, and wheezing. Inhaling formaldehyde may trigger asthma symptoms, and skin
contact may cause rashes or sensitization. Sensitive individuals may experience skin or
asthmatic reactions at very low levels.
Occupational exposure to formaldehyde has been associated with an increased risk of
How can I avoid being exposed to formaldehyde?
- Choose building materials that are low in formaldehyde for home remodeling and
construction projects. Choose furniture or cabinetry made of solid wood or softwood
plywood can help reduce exposure.
- Use building products such as solid lumber or metal instead of particleboard.
- Increase ventilation when new sources of formaldehyde are brought into your home.
- Maintain moderate temperature and humidity levels when you have new building materials
in your home.
- Consider washing permanent-press clothes and fabrics before you use them if you are
sensitive to formaldehyde.
- Prohibit the use of tobacco products (e.g. cigarettes and cigars) indoors.
What should I do if I suspect a problem?
If you suspect you are being exposed to formaldehyde, take steps such as those
described above to limit your exposure. Ask your builder or lumber supplier for products
that are low in formaldehyde.
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Health Resource Directory
PPH 7106 11/2000
August 23, 2012