Formaldehyde may be one of those common air contaminants that we’ve all heard of. While most of us think of it as an ingredient to modern-day embalming fluid, which indeed it is, only few people have adequate knowledge of what it really is, its sources, and its effects on health.
What is Formaldehyde?
The US Environmental Protection Agency or US EPA defines formaldehyde as a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature with a strong odor. It is a type of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) that is found in many consumer and workplace products such as:
- Glues and adhesives
- Air fresheners
- Permanent press fabrics
- Some paper products
- Tobacco smoke
- Cleaning chemicals
The primary way you can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing the gas. The optimum range of exposure to formaldehyde should be below 40 ppb or below 50 μg/m³. Short-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. At higher levels, formaldehyde exposure can cause skin rashes, shortness of breath, wheezing, disruptions in lung function, and cancer.
Formaldehyde at Work
There are a number of industries and businesses where formaldehyde is regularly being used. Since formaldehyde is used to preserve biological specimens, it is used by those who work in laboratories. Other industries where exposure to formaldehyde are common may include:
- Plastic manufacturing companies
- Foam and resin manufacturers
- Funeral industry
Aside from the above, office workers should also be aware of formaldehyde in their workplaces. The brand-new desks are quite likely to contain higher levels of formaldehyde than old office furniture, which will be released for a good amount of time.
Managing Formaldehyde at Work
Many sources of formaldehyde are common and may seem unavoidable, but there are several methods that you can do to reduce your exposure.
- Choose low-formaldehyde products whenever possible. There are furniture and pressed-wood boards made with laminated surfaces that release less formaldehyde. Also available are alternatives to adhesives and glues.
- Increase ventilation to allow fresh air to enter inside a building while removing stale indoor air.
- Store cleaning chemicals, pesticides, and air fresheners in sealed containers
- Purchase second-hand office furniture as off-gassing from new furniture often occurs in the first few years of the life-cycle of the product
- Monitor formaldehyde levels. There are air quality monitors with sensors that can help you measure the presence and levels of formaldehyde in your facility. By having the right measurement, you can identify the potential source of formaldehyde and adjust your indoor environment based on your office building’s indoor air quality requirements. Additionally, the continuous monitoring of air pollutants can help you obtain green and healthy building certifications like RESET, WELL, and Fitwel, and comply with health standards set by the government and other health organizations you follow.