Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable gas with a very distinct odor. It is a naturally occurring chemical, and minimal amounts are produced by the human body. However, formaldehyde is a dangerous volatile organic compound (VOC), especially in high concentrations. It can cause numerous adverse health conditions and causes certain types of cancer.
The most common symptoms of formaldehyde exposure include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat and an increase in tear production. These irritations occur at relatively low levels ranging from 0.4 up to 3 parts per million. Individuals with a hypersensitivity to formaldehyde can experience these symptoms at concentrations as low as 0.037 parts per million. Other short-term effects of formaldehyde exposure include runny nose, nausea, and breathing difficulties.
The symptoms of formaldehyde exposure vary. Some individuals have a natural sensitivity to airborne formaldehyde. Others may develop an allergy after skin exposure.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer lists formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen. It is known to cause a rare form of cancer that affects the upper part of the throat and nasal cavity.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designates formaldehyde as a “probable human carcinogen,” while California lists it as a “toxic air contaminant.”
While formaldehyde is present both indoors and out, levels are usually more concentrated indoors. Since formaldehyde is a volatile compound, it evaporates easily and is released by many chemical products inside the home. Some of these products include cosmetics, detergents, cleaning products, and fabric softener. Other common sources of indoor formaldehyde are paper, plywood, glue, paint, and certain types of insulation.
Smoking tobacco products also releases formaldehyde into the air. Burning wood, paper, and fuel are also sources of airborne formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde concentrations may be higher during the summer months since heat and humidity speed up the release of the substance into the air.
Here are a few easy ways to reduce your exposure to indoor formaldehyde.
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