Global water education: Save the Water™ Questions and Answers: “How dangerous is formaldehyde ?”

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Is Formalderhyde Dangerous?
Read The Following Two Articles And Decide


Contamination Formaldehyde / Asbestos


Industrial Uses Of Formaldehyde

Save the Water™ does not represent or endorse the postings herein or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement, or other information furnished by the author.
major sources of formaldehyde

University of Illinois LogoFormaldehyde is emitted from certain products, including certain types of plywood and paneling, furniture, and some foamed-in-place insulation. The gas can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing in some people.

Many products that use formaldehyde contain very small amounts and may cause problems only for the few people who have extreme sensitivities. More important are those products that (a) contain substantial amounts of formaldehyde and (b) are used in large quantities throughout the house. The products listed here are of special concern.

formaldehyde test It’s sometimes possible to detect a formaldehyde problem simply by its characteristic odor. Another option is to test for its presence in the air by hiring an environmental testing firm. Although the accuracy of do-it-yourself kits is questionable for very low concentrations, a positive result can confirm a problem. Keep in mind that do-it-yourself kits may be difficult to find and relatively expensive.
formaldehyde levels Formaldehyde can be found in nearly all homes, at least in low concentrations. Research suggests that some health problems can occur at levels of 0.10 parts per million (ppm), with sensitive persons affected at levels of 0.05 ppm. Consult a knowledgeable physician if you suspect you are reacting to formaldehyde exposure.
reducing formaldehyde exposure To reduce exposure, block formaldehyde emissions by covering exposed particle board with two coats of polyurethane varnish or, preferably, lacquer. Use substitutes for particle board such as waferboard and softwood interior-exterior plywood. Use solid-wood furniture and cabinets instead of veneered. Also, use drywall instead of paneling.
reducing formaldehyde exposure Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperatures and reduce humidity levels. Heat and humidity increase the rate at which formaldyhyde is released. Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the house. Also, wash permanent-press fabrics before use.
asbestos Asbestos, a mineral fiber often found in the home, is another material that can become an air pollutant. Asbestos is only dangerous when the material is damaged and asbestos fibers are released into the air. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers over a long period can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
asbestos insulation Most products made today do not contain asbestos, and the few products that still contain asbestos that can be inhaled are required to be labeled as such.
products that may contain asbestos Here are some common products that might have contained asbestos in the past (and may be present in some homes today).
products that may contain asbestos Additional products that might have contained asbestos in the past.
asbestos wraped pipe Don’t panic if you think asbestos may be in your home. Usually, it’s best to leave asbestos material alone if it is in good condition. The asbestos pictured here is clearly not in good condition; but in cases where the asbestos is in good shape, disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before. If asbestos is damaged, seek expert help to repair or remove the material.
asbestos removal University of Illinois LogoBecause of the hazards involved, asbestos repair and removal should be done by professionals who have received special training. Ask for proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of a training course approved by the U.S. EPA. Professionals are also available to inspect your home for asbestos

University of Illinois

College of Agricultural,
Consumer and
Environmental Sciences

This article has been reviewed by the following Topic Editor: Sidney Draggan
[toggle title=”Industrial Uses Of Formaldehyde” height=”auto”]

From The
Encyclopedia of Earth
Introduction To
Industrial Uses Of Formaldehyde

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute is a Massachusetts government research entity that has used the unique usage data from the state pollution and prevention program to create selected chemical fact sheets. The following is from the Turi Formaldehyde Fact sheet.

Profoundly simple, inexpensive and useful, formaldehyde is found in many products, including resins and adhesives, permanent press fabric treatments, tissue preservatives, lawn fertilizers, cosmetics and disinfectants. Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer in humans and may cause adverse reproductive outcomes.

Off-gassed from construction products and released by manufacturing facilities and combustion sources, formaldehyde is almost ubiquitous at low levels in both indoor and outdoor air. It is often targeted as a cause of health complaints associated with “sick building syndrome,” such as respiratory irritation and headaches.

In 2005, Massachusetts companies used more than 3.5 million pounds of formaldehyde.

Use Nationally and in Massachusetts

Formaldehyde is a basic building block chemical and it finds its way, either directly or in derivative chemicals, into almost all sectors of the economy and thousands of products. Formaldehyde’s readiness to polymerize makes it ideal for the production of durable resins in wet environments. Most formaldehyde is sold as formalin, an aqueous solution of formaldehyde with some methanol. While available and used in a variety of concentrations, formaldehyde is most commonly used in 37% formalin solutions.

U.S. manufacturers’ consumption is relatively stable at about 10 billion pounds of formaldehyde a year. Because of formaldehyde’s chemical properties which inhibit long range export, U.S. formaldehyde production closely tracks U.S. consumption.

The primary uses of formaldehyde are the manufacture of formaldehyde-based resins and as an intermediary in the manufacture of chemicals, plastics, and controlled-release fertilizers. Wood adhesives used to make plywood, particleboard and other manufactured wood products are the dominant end use of formaldehyde, accounting for 64% of the total worldwide consumption in 2003. Formaldehyde resins can be grouped into two main categories: phenolic resins and amino resins (e.g., urea-formaldehyde and melanine-formaldehyde). Phenol-formaldehyde resins are used in plywood, varnishes, laminates and foam insulation. Amino resins are used in plywood, particle board, and medium density fiberboard (for use in cabinets and furniture).

Formaldehyde is an intermediary chemical in the manufacture of several commercially important chemicals, including 1,4-butanediol (used to make polyurethane and spandex® fibers), methylene diisocyanate (MDI is a common substitute for formaldehyde in wood adhesives) and amino polycarboxylic acids (e.g., EDTA), which are used in cosmetics, pesticides and textile coatings. Other end uses of formaldehyde include embalming agents, gasoline stabilizers, drying agents, preservatives in cosmetics, and biocides in metal machining fluids.

Massachusetts experienced an overall 64% reduction in the use of formaldehyde from 1990 to 2005.

  • In 2005, Massachusetts’ facilities reported using over 3.5 million pounds of formaldehyde under the Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) (see Table 1).
  • Four companies accounted for over 90% of Massachusetts’ publicly reportable formaldehyde use in 2005: Borden & Remington (chemical distributor and manufacturer of aqueous dispersants), The Dodge Company (manufacturer of embalming agents), Raytor Compounds, Inc. (formerly Perstorp Compounds, a manufacturer of urea- and melamine formaldehyde resins for molding dinnerware, medical products, and household fixtures) and Rohm & Haas Electronic Materials (manufacturer of specialty chemicals for use in printed wiring board fabrication and surface finishing).
  • One Massachusetts manufacturer, Solutia, Inc. in Springfield, claims trade secret when reporting formaldehyde use. Therefore, no information about that chemical is included in the publicly-available TURA database or in total quantities in this factsheet. Information regarding Solutia’s releases and off-site transfers is publicly available under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).
  • Other Massachusetts users of formaldehyde include the electronics and paper and fabric coating industries. Electronics manufacturers use formaldehyde in the production of printed wiring boards. Manufacturers of coated fabrics and paper products use formaldehyde-based chemicals in coating, laminating, and treating applications. Formaldehyde is also incidentally produced and released by electricity generation facilities.

Table 1. Massachusetts Formaldehyde Consumption by Industry Sector (1990 – 2005)

Industry Sector Facility Name Location Use (pounds)
1990 2005
Chemicals and Chemical Products Borden & Remington Fall River 0 100,596
Monson Companies Inc Leominster 26,385 0
The Dodge Company Cambridge 1,300,000 654,382
WR Grace & Company Acton 45,799 0
Coating and Laminating Applications Fabric Coating Lewcott Corporation Millbury 0 49,984
Paper Coating and Laminating National Coating Corporation Rockland 10,258 0
Printed Circuit Corporation Woburn 13,096 0
Paper Mills Crane & Co Inc Pioneer Mill Dalton 53,366 0
Hollingsworth & Vose Company West Groton 16,000 0
MW Custom Papers LLC – Laurel Mill Lee 0 56,444
MW Custom Papers, LLC – Willow Mill South Lee 0 56,940
PWA Rollan Decor Inc Fitchburg 108,000 0
Electronic Components and Printed Circuit Boards Altron Wilmington 24,450 0
Rohm & Haas Electronic Materials LLC Marlborough 586,000 370,700
Bull HN Information Systems Boston 12,000 0
Sanmina SCI Corporation Wilmington 0 0
Plastics, Resins and Abrasives Hercules Inc Chicopee 606,180 0
Raytor Compounds, Inc. (formerly
Perstorp Compounds, Inc)
Florence 6,241,211 2,056,715
Specialty Polymers Leominster 84,150 0
FAPL Inc Worcester 47,286 0
Tyrolit North America Inc Westborough 10,742 0
Electric and Gas Production/Distribution Boston Generating Mystic LLC Charlestown 0 31,756
Hopkinton LNG Facility Hopkinton 0 15,580
Total Formaldehyde Use 9,184,923 3,525,335

Table 1 summarizes the uses of formaldehyde in Massachusetts from 1990 to 2005. Between 1990 and 2005, use of formaldehyde in Massachusetts dropped by almost 5.7 million pounds.

The most significant change occurred between 1992 and 1993, when Raytor Compounds, Inc (then Perstorp Compounds) decreased its formaldehyde use by 3.5 million pounds, after which manufacture of formaldehyde remained fairly constant. Raytor’s overall change from 1990 to 2005 was a decrease of 4.2 million pounds.

Between 1990 and 1991 The Dodge Company experienced a one-time 12.45 million pounds reduction in processing. Dodge then steadily increased its production of formaldehyde by an overall 25% from 1991 to 2005.

Borden & Remington, who uses formaldehyde as a dispersant and also repackages formaldehyde for resale, began operations in 1991. In 1998 B&R experienced a dramatic reduction in the use of formaldehyde, reducing its reportable amounts from slightly over 1 million pounds in 1997 to 607,550 pounds in 1998.

Figure 1. Illustrates percent change in formaldehyde

As shown in Figure 1, increases in use of formaldehyde between 1990 and 2005 are related to the fabric coating and electricity generation industry sectors. Lewcott Corporation, the only fabric coater reporting formaldehyde use in Massachusetts, had not used reportable amounts of formaldehyde in 1990. It began reporting in 1993 and showed a 40% increase in use from 1993 to 2005. Electricity generating facilities were not required to report in 1990. The first reports for this industry sector occurred in 1998. There was a 70% increase in formaldehyde manufacture (as a byproduct of combustion) by this sector from 1998 to 2005.

The change from 1990 to 2005 in absolute amount of inputs and outputs in Massachusetts is shown in Figure 2. Inputs include formaldehyde that is manufactured or processed, as well as formaldehyde that is “otherwise used” – ancillary uses that do not become incorporated into the final product. Outputs include formaldehyde that is generated as byproduct (i.e., all non-product material created by a process line prior to release, on-site treatment, or transfer) and the amount that is shipped in or as product.

Figure 2. Inputs and Outputs of Fomaldehyde

As shown in Figure 2, both inputs and outputs have been significantly reduced overall in the Commonwealth from 1990 to 2005. Specifically, from 1990 to 2005 the amount of formaldehyde manufactured or processed was reduced by 64%; the amount of formaldehyde that was otherwise used, however, increased almost five-fold. The amount shipped in product over the same time period was reduced by 85% while the amount of byproduct generated went down by less than 30%.

Raytor Compounds and The Dodge Company together shipped almost 6.8 million fewer pounds of formaldehyde in product in 2005 than in 1990. The majority of that reduction coincides with each company’s dramatic decrease in formaldehyde processing in the early 1990s.

Raytor alone reduced its generation of formaldehyde byproduct by 95%, or 66,400 pounds, between 1990 and 2005.

In 1991, its first reportable year of operations, Bordon & Remington reported 1.2 million pounds of formaldehyde shipped in product and 13,800 pounds generated as byproduct. By 2005 B&R had reduced both these numbers significantly – shipping only 100,600 pounds in product, and generating no formaldehyde as byproduct.

A major reporter of formaldehyde byproduct generation in 2005 was the MW Custom Papers company (formerly Mead Paper Corporation). Its two facilities began operations in 1995, at which point they reported an aggregate of 136,000 pounds of byproduct generated. MW Custom Papers reduced its use of formaldehyde and associated generation of byproduct by approximately 17% from 1995 to 2005.

A significant contributor to the amount of byproduct generated in 1990 was PWA Rollan Décor, Inc. who reported 71,500 pounds. This company, however, no longer reported after 1992[1].

Regulatory Context[2]

Formaldehyde is regulated as a human carcinogen, and classified as either a probably, potential or likely human carcinogen by IARC, OSHA, NIOSH and EPS’s National Toxicology Program.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. EPA, and Consumer Product Safety Commission regulate formaldehyde.

  • The OSHA permissible exposures limit (PEL) for an eight-hour workshift for formaldehyde is 0.75 parts per million (ppm) and the short-term exposure limit (STEL) — not to be exceeded during any 15-minute work period—is 2 ppm. Employers must take action to protect employees if exposures reach 0.5 ppm for 8 hours. The NIOSH recommended eight-hour exposure limit (REL) is 0.016 ppm and the STEL is 0.1 ppm.
  • Formaldehyde is identified as a hazardous and toxic chemical in all media by the U.S. EPA.
  • It is classified as both a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) and a regulated toxic, explosive, or flammable substance under the Clean Air Act.
  • Formaldehyde emitted from combustion turbines is subject to the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards for these devices under the Clean Air Act. This MACT standard limits formaldehyde emissions, depending on the type of device, to between 580 parts per billion (ppb) to 350 ppm.
  • A second MACT standard relating to formaldehyde is associated with the production of amino/phenolic resins. This rule establishes emission limits or control efficiency requirements for several emission points: reactor batch process vents, non-reactor batch process vents, continuous process vents, storage tanks, equipment leaks, and heat exchange systems.
  • Federal drinking water guidelines are for no more than 1,000 grams per liter (g/l) formaldehyde.
  • Formaldehyde is classified as an extremely hazardous substance under CERCLA (Superfund).
  • It is classified as a “registered pesticide” under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.
  • According to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, formaldehyde-bearing wastes must be handled as hazardous waste.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission, under authority of the federal Hazardous Substances Act, requires all household products with 1% or more formaldehyde to bear a warning label.

Further Reading


^1. Stanford Research Institute (SRI) International, 1997, Chemical Economics Handbook, “Formaldehyde” (Palo Alto, California: SRI); Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP), 2000, “Mass. TUR Act Chemical Reporting Data” (Boston: MA DEP). Toxics Use Reduction Institute “Five Chemicals Alternatives Assessment Study” 2006 – see webpage:

^2. EDF, 1999; and SRI International, 1997 (see endnotes #1 & #2) Version 2

Editor’s Notes


Toxics Use Reduction Institute, Pamela Civie (Lead Author);Sidney Draggan (Topic Editor) “Industrial uses of formaldehyde”. In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth March 29, 2008; Last revised Date March 29, 2008; Retrieved May 22, 2012 <>

The Authors

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) helps Massachusetts companies and communities find innovative, cost effective ways to reduce toxic chemical use at the source, rather than treat wastes once produced. Its objectives include to research, test and promote alternatives to toxic chemicals used in Massachusetts industries and communities; to provide resources and tools for a safer place to live and work; and to promote economic competitiveness through improved efficiency, compliancy sta … (Full Bio)

Pam Civie has been an integral part of the research arm of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute since 2000, and is the Industry Research Program Manager. She manages the University Research in Sustainable Technologies program and the Cleaner Technology Demonstration Site and Matching Grant program. As part of the latter program Ms. Civie facilitates Environmental Management Systems (EMS) industry workgroups in Massachusetts and conducts internal EMS auditing trainings. Ms. Civie promotes Green Che … (Full Bio)

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