Formaldehyde is a chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. Per the EPA, it is a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, that can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). The EPA considers formaldehyde a “probable” human carcinogen and the European Union decided on September 22, 2007 to ban Formaldehyde use throughout Europe due to its carcinogenic properties.

Formaldehyde Risk High concentrations of formaldehyde may trigger attacks in adults and children with asthma. There is evidence that some people can also develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions.

Where can Formaldehyde be found? Formaldehyde can be commonly found in manufactured wood products (such as particle board and medium density fiber board). Adhesives in these products are generally the main source of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also prominent in mattresses, mattress pads, clothing, and other textiles. It is used frequently in most permanent presses of clothes and bedding to keep them wrinkle-free. The formaldehyde in the fabrics dissipates over time and after several washes.

Reduce the Risk

  • Be cautious when brining in new furniture (bedding, beds, cribs, recliners, and shelves) into the home. Increase ventilation and let new products with formaldehyde sit outside for a few days before bringing them into the home, if possible.
  • Purchase “natural” wood products whenever possible and avoid wood products that are glued together (veneers, press board, etc.) This includes wood flooring and decking materials.
  • Consider using “second hand” or older furniture in the baby’s room. While it may not be brand new, much of the harmful formaldehyde will have dissipated.
  • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.