Woodworking health and safety
Formaldehyde has the classification of a (VOC) or volatile organic compound because it turns into a gas at room temperature. You can find formaldehyde in various household products made from plywood, plastic, and cardboard, to name a few. But we should not forget that Formaldehyde is a natural compound found in many natural materials including wood.
Becoming educated about the risks of formaldehyde exposure is important. Doing so will allow you to reduce your exposure to this carcinogenic compound. To learn more about the toxic effects of exposing yourself to formaldehyde, continue reading.
What is formaldehyde?
As we mentioned earlier, formaldehyde is an organically occurring compound. While it has no distinct color, formaldehyde does have a very potent smell. Despite its harmful properties, formaldehyde is used to manufacture various building materials. Formaldehyde is one of the main ingredients in many pressed-wood products.
You’ll find formaldehyde in the production of particleboard and plywood, amongst other wood products. When found in household products and building materials, formaldehyde serves as a long-lasting adhesive.
Formaldehyde in wood
While many wood products contain formaldehyde, toxic compound emissions have only been found when exposing wood to high temperatures. As per Californi’s Proposition 65 act, formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen.
The EPA has also categorized formaldehyde as a “probable human carcinogen.” Virtually all wood products contain formaldehyde; the amount contained within your home’s wood products will vary. While exposure to formaldehyde in small amounts hasn’t shown any significant adverse effects, some studies prove exposure to formaldehyde is not always benign.
Products that contain Formaldehyde
Outside of wood, here are some of the most common products you’ll find formaldehyde in:
- Fabric Softeners
- Dishwashing Detergents
- Pesticides & Fertilizer Products
- Paper-Based Products
- Permanent Press Fabric
- And more
Air Quality Meter
Measuring the levels of Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC is a useful analytic method. There are digital tools available for the measuring of various airborne toxins. I own an air quality meter which is very good at measuring
- HCHO (Formaldehyde)
- TVOC (Totale Volatile Organic Compounds)
- PM 2.5 (2.5-micron particles)
- PM10 (10-micron particles)
I bought my air quality meter from Amazon and you can buy one here:
Outside Exposure is safer than Inside
The location also plays a considerable part in determining your risk factor. If the product which contains formaldehyde is located outdoors, your risk of harmful exposure is significantly reduced. Alternatively, if the product is located indoors, the risk of dangerous exposure increases.
Different wood products have varying emission levels of formaldehyde. This is another variable you should pay attention to when purchasing building materials or other household items known to contain formaldehyde.
If you’re concerned about exposing your family to formaldehyde, there are some solutions.
Safe Levels of Formaldehyde
OSHA.gov says, “permissible exposure limit (PEL) for formaldehyde in the workplace is 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) measured as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA)”.
Some organisations disagree and advocate there is no safe exposure limit.
The common glue that is used in the production of many building materials is based on Formaldehyde. I must mention that some are marked Formaldehyde Free!
In this video, I prove how these resin glues give off Formaldehyde gases to very high levels.
Reducing Your Exposure To Formaldehyde
Several companies are taking the initiative to remove formaldehyde from their products altogether. One way to identify whether the work you’ve purchased contains formaldehyde is by checking to see a 65 label proposition.
Considering the risks are all around us it is almost impossible to avoid some exposure to Formaldehyde Gas. But we can improve our surroundings by removing products that contain higher levels of Formaldehyde but also diluting the gas with filtered air.
Things we can do
- Use an Air quality meter
- Clean toxic particles from the air
- Ventilate to reduce parts per million
- Circulate Air to dilute Carcinogens
- Remove Toxic Materials
- Wear natural clothes
Air filtration units can play a great part in reducing the levels of formaldehyde gas in the air we breathe. If you are considering purchasing an Air Filtration unit it is important to choose a model that has an ‘Activated Carbon’ stage. Carbon can trap Formaldehyde, yet the prefilter and HEPA stages will filter toxic particles down to 0.3 microns. I have installed two Levoit LV133 to purify room air – you can purchase a Levoit LV H133 for a great price from Amazon. I have written a Blog all about Air Purifiers.
One fun fact you need to know as that most wood building materials go through what is known as “off-gassing.” This process essentially releases most of the concentrated formaldehyde in the product before being installed in your home. For this reason alone, many people can’t smell formaldehyde even if they have many of the building materials that contain it in their home.
When exposed to harmful levels of formaldehyde, the human body can undergo the following reactions:
- Burning Sensation in the Throat, Eyes, and Nose
- Watery Eyes
- Skin Irritation
- Excessive Coughing
- And more
Those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma are at an increased risk of experiencing a fatal reaction when exposed to formaldehyde. The EPA has recently launched an initiative that limits the amount of formaldehyde released from commercially available composite wood products.
Independent certifying agencies will not regulate wood composite producers to ensure they comply with safe formaldehyde practices.
Formaldehyde is Political
Trump’s notorious reputation of suppressing scientific evidence also applies to a study by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) “that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapour in the course of daily life to put them at risk of developing leukaemia and other ailments.” A recent report by Politico
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