Formaldehyde - Environmental Health and Safety Information - Free

Formaldehyde 
Environmental, Health and Safety Information

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Introduction

Formaldehyde is common to the chemical industry. The Eleventh Report on Carcinogens classifies it as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" and reported US production at 11.3 billion pounds in 1998. This ranked it 25th overall US chemical production. During both 1994 and 1995, Chemical & Engineering News reported U.S. production at 8.1 billion pounds . This ranked it 24 th overall. International production was over 46 billion pounds in 2004, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is well known as a preservative in medical laboratories, as an embalming fluid, and as a sterilizer. Its primary use is in the production of resins and as a chemical intermediate. Urea-formaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde resins are used in foam insulations, as adhesives in the production of particle board and plywood, and in the treating of textiles.

Short-term exposure to formaldehyde can be fatal; however, the odor threshold is low enough that irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes will occur before these levels are achieved. Long-term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause respiratory difficulty, eczema, and sensitization. Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen and has been linked to nasal and lung cancer, and with possible links to brain cancer and leukemia.

Recognition

Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen and has been linked to nasal and lung cancer, and with possible links to brain cancer and leukemia. Short-term exposure to formaldehyde can be fatal. Long-term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause respiratory difficulty, eczema, and sensitization. The following references aid in recognizing formaldehyde hazards in the workplace.

  • Report on Carcinogens . US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Public Health Services, National Toxicology Program. Table of contents with links to sections of the report.
  • Sources of Indoor Air Pollution - Formaldehyde . Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Discusses health effects, exposures, controls, and provides links to additional information on formaldehyde.
  • Formaldehyde . OSHA Fact Sheet, (2002, July 30), 43 KB PDF , 2 pages. Provides information for employers and employees on the hazards of formaldehyde in the workplace.
  • An Update on Formaldehyde . US Consumer Product Safety Commission, (1997). Also available as a 38 KB PDF file. Discusses formaldehyde and its health hazards using non-technical terminology. Discusses why formaldehyde is a concern, sources of exposure, and what levels are normal.
  • Formaldehyde . National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Safety and Health Topic.
  • Formaldehyde . Department of Health Services, Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS), Berkeley, CA, (2003, January), 501 KB PDF , 8 pages. Describes the adverse effects of formaldehyde and how to avoid them.
  • Indoor Air Quality in Florida: Formaldehyde . University of Florida Extension, Institution of Food and Agriculture Sciences, (2003, September), 118 KB PDF , 2 pages. This brief discussion of formaldehyde covers hazards and control measures, especially for hot, humid areas.
  • Chemical Identity: Formaldehyde . Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention, (1987, November 30). This is the EPA chemical profile for formaldehyde.
  • Formaldehyde. Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS), Department of Health Services, Berkeley, CA (1993, May), 4 pages, 15 KB. This fact sheet describes the adverse effects of formaldehyde and how to avoid them.
  • Occupational Exposure to Formaldehyde . OSHA Fact Sheet 95-27, 2 pages.
  • Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Formaldehyde. NIOSH document number 77-126 (1977). Available from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) as publication number PB273805.
  • Formaldehyde . U.S. EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), (1991), 8 pages. Information in support of the carcinogen designation of formaldehyde.
  • Formaldehyde . EPA Health Effects Notebook for Hazardous Air Pollutants (1997), 3 pages. Contains a discussion of health effects related to formaldehyde and its exposure.
  • Formaldehyde Patient Information . Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (1995), 1 page. Information for persons who may have been exposed to formaldehyde gas or solution (formalin).
  • Cancer Facts - Risk Factors: Formaldehyde . National Cancer Institute (1994), 2 pages. Provides a non-technical discussion of the relationship between formaldehyde exposure and cancer.
  • Documentation for Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLHs) for formaldehyde . NIOSH (1996), 1 page. Contains toxicological and health information related to formaldehyde.
  • 8th Annual Report on Carcinogens . Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program (1995), 2 pages. Includes a discussion of formaldehyde ; there is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of formaldehyde.
  • Formaldehyde: potential health hazards . Manitoba Department of Labour, Workplace Safety and Health Division (1995), 1 page. Provides brief information on the health effects and controls. Includes a table of formaldehyde concentrations and associated physiological responses.
  • Indoor Air Quality in Florida: Formaldehyde . Florida Cooperative Extension Service (1993), 2 pages [PDF file]. A brief discussion of formaldehyde hazards and control measures, especially for hot, humid areas.
  • Formaldehyde Exposure of Foundry Workers Was Not Associated with Cancer of the Respiratory Tract . Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (1995), 1 page.
  • See the following related Technical Links pages:

Evaluation

Formaldehyde exposure is most common through gas-phase inhalation. However, it can also occur through liquid-phase skin absorption. Workers can be exposed during direct production, treatment of materials, and production of resins. Health care professionals; pathology and histology technicians; and teachers and students who handle preserved specimens are potentially at high risk. Consumers can receive exposures from building materials, cosmetics, home furnishings, and textiles. The following references provide information about the management of occupational exposures to formaldehyde.

Medical Management Chemical Sampling and Analysis
  • Formaldehyde . OSHA Chemical Sampling Information, (2003). Provides a summary of physical and chemical properties, health effects, and sampling and analysis procedures. Sampling Information for aldehydes in general is also available.
  • Acrolein and/or Formaldehyde . OSHA Sampling and Analytical Method 52, (1989, June). Includes validated sampling and analysis method for the determination of formaldehyde in workplace air.
  • Manual of Analytical Methods. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1994, August 15). NIOSH has developed the following methods for the determination of formaldehyde.
    • Formaldehyde by GC: Method 2541. 29 KB PDF , 5 pages.
    • Formaldehyde by VIS: Method 3500. 31 KB PDF , 5 pages.
    • Formaldehyde on Dust (Textile or Wood): Method 5700. 30 KB PDF , 5 pages.
  • Sampling and Analysis . OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides chemical sampling and analysis information to aid occupational health and safety professionals to assess workplace contaminants and associated worker exposures.

Controls

Engineering and work practice controls are the first line of defense against formaldehyde hazards. For instances where engineering and work practice controls cannot reduce employee exposure, respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE) are used. The following references provide possible solutions for formaldehyde hazards in the workplace.

  • US Geological Survey Manual . US Geological Survey (USGS) SM 445-2-H.
  • Controlling Formaldehyde Exposures During Embalming . US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-149, (1998, October). Describes a local exhaust ventilation system for controlling exposures during embalming.
  • Personal Protective Equipment . OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides safety and health information about personal protective equipment (PPE) that is designed to prevent or lessen the severity of injuries to workers when engineering the administrative controls are not feasible or effective in reducing these exposures to acceptable levels.
  • Ventilation . OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Provides safety and health information about ventilation in the workplace. Ventilation is one of the most common engineering controls used to control chemical hazards in the workplace.

Compliance

Exposures to formaldehyde are addressed in specific standards for maritime, construction, and general industries. This page highlights OSHA standards, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to formaldehyde.

Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees". Section 5(a)(2) requires employers to "comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act".
 
Note: Twenty-four states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.
Highlighted Standards
General Industry ( 29 CFR 1910 ) Shipyard Employment ( 29 CFR 1915 ) Construction ( 29 CFR 1926 )
Preambles to Final Rules Directives Standard Interpretations

Training

  • Training is required at least annually for all employees exposed to formaldehyde concentrations of 0.1 ppm or greater. Training increases employees' awareness of specific hazards in their workplace and of the control measures employed. It also assists successful medical surveillance and medical removal programs. These provisions will only be effective if employees know what signs or symptoms are related to the health effects of formaldehyde, if they know how to properly report them to the employer, and if they are periodically encouraged to do so.
  • The Healthy Indoor Air for America's Homes program provides information and training materials. Formaldehyde is listed as one of the 10 top indoor air hazards. A training module and question and answer sheet is provided. Though this program is designed for home indoor air quality, much of the material has application in the workplace.
  • An Update on Formaldehyde . Consumer Product Safety Commission (1997), PDF file. This pamphlet discusses formaldehyde and its health hazards using non-technical terminology.