Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling (pickle-like odor) chemical that is present both indoors and outdoors (occurring naturally). Formaldehyde is volatile, and will readily convert to a gas from a solid or liquid state. It is released into the air from many products inside the home.
When an item gives off formaldehyde, it is released into the air through a process called off-gassing. High humidity and high temperatures can speed up and increase the release of formaldehyde from products and surfaces. In some spaces such as manufacturing and commercial buildings, formaldehyde vapors may reach dangerously high concentrations.
Indoor levels of formaldehyde should be as low as possible, assuming that you cannot get indoor levels below background amounts (outdoor levels). According to research from the California Environmental Protection Agency (2004), levels of formaldehyde in conventional homes average about 20 ppb, while levels in manufactured homes the average is about 40 ppb.
Symptomatic irritations can occur with low levels of formaldehyde exposure, especially in people who are sensitive to the chemical compound.
HOW ARE YOU EXPOSED TO FORMALDEHYDE?
- products that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins
- products that contain phenol-formaldehyde (PF) resins (lower concentrations of formaldehyde than UF resins)
- composite wood products (i.e., hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard
- softwood plywood, flake or oriented strand board
- pre-finished engineered flooring
- building materials and insulation
- glues and adhesives
- bonding agents and solvents
- paints and coatings
- lacquers and finishes
- disinfectant cleaning products and soaps
- some synthetic fabrics (permanent press)
- some cosmetics and personal products (some hair sprays)
- pet care products
- combustion byproduct such as tobacco smoke and fuel-burning appliances (gas stoves, kerosene space heaters and fireplaces)