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Formaldehyde 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.
|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 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.|
|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.|
|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, 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.|
|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.|
|Here are some common products that might have contained asbestos in the past (and may be present in some homes today).|
|Additional products that might have contained asbestos in the past.|
|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.|
|Because 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|
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.
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.
Table 1. Massachusetts Formaldehyde Consumption by Industry Sector (1990 – 2005)
|Industry Sector||Facility Name||Location||Use (pounds)|
|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)
|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.
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.
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.
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.
^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: http://www.turi.org/industry/research/five_chemicals_study
^2. EDF, 1999; and SRI International, 1997 (see endnotes #1 & #2) Version 2
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 <http://www.eoearth.org/article/Industrial_uses_of_formaldehyde>
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)