Formaldehyde: It’s Natural, It’s Everywhere, and It’s Poisonous-November 2012

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

November 2012

IN THIS ISSUE: Formaldehyde: It’s Natural, It’s Everywhere, and It’s Poisonous.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent, and flammable gas that occurs naturally. Formaldehyde is also extremely dangerous. When exposed, workers can experience short term effects such as watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose, throat, as well as coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation.  Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen known to cause several kinds of cancer, including leukemia. The chemical is a sensitizer causing some individuals to experience skin reaction and asthma, even with incidental exposure.

“The problem with formaldehyde is that it is present in so many products used by so many industries,” explains Gary R. Ticker, CIH, CSP, of OccuSafe, Inc. “It’s truly everywhere.”

Formaldehyde is a component of building materials such as particle board and plywood. Workers in the building trades may be exposed, and it is used in glues, adhesives, and coatings found in many industries. It is common in textiles and paper products. Workers who manufacture these products, build furniture, install carpet, or use disinfectants, germicides, or fungicides, may be exposed. Medical professionals and morticians may be exposed when using certain preservatives. Effects may also be increased by off-the-job exposure, such as during a home renovation.

In order to control employee exposure to formaldehyde, follow these guidelines:

  1. Identify Sources of Formaldehyde. Determine whether formaldehyde is a component of the product being manufactured and use safety data sheets (SDS) and other resource materials to determine if there are materials used at the facility that contain formaldehyde.
  2. Conduct Air Sampling. Determine levels of employee exposure and compare them to OSHA, ACGIH, and NIOSH occupational standards. Evaluate other possible routes of entry such as skin contact. If exposures exceed recommended levels, see OSHA standard 1910.1048 and other occupational guidelines.
  3. Make Substitutions. If possible, substitute materials that do not contain formaldehyde.
  4. Install Engineering Controls. Ventilation may control inhalation of vapors, and proper barriers may prevent skin contact.
  5. Provide Protective Equipment. Respirators, personal protective equipment, and protective clothing may protect workers from formaldehyde exposure.
  6. Educate Employees. Training workers about on- and off-the-job sources of formaldehyde, symptoms of exposure, and the proper use of controls, personal protective equipment, and work practices, help reduce dangers.

Formaldehyde is present in many products and is present in some form in most industries. However, with a concerted effort to recognize and evaluate facility exposures, its ill effects can be controlled. For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or (303) 219-6973 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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