IN THIS ISSUE: Formaldehyde

Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen. They found that there was “sufficient evidence” that it caused nasopharyngeal cancer in humans and was also suspected it may also cause leukemia. The IARC  is part of the World Health Organization of the United Nations. Its role is to conduct and coordinate research into the causes of cancer. 

Formaldehyde is a colorless, highly toxic, and flammable gas at room temperature. 

Occupational exposure to formaldehyde can irritate the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes. It may also have adverse effects on the respiratory system. Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can possibly lead to cancer. The level of exposure depends upon the dose, duration, and work being done. It is used in glues and resins, dyes, textiles, disinfectants, building materials, automobile parts, embalming, and laboratories. Some examples of workers at risk of being exposed to formaldehyde include the following:

  • Agricultural workers who work in confinement livestock production
  • Construction workers who work with resin manufactured products
  • Workers who manufacture plastics, resins and foam insulation
  • Morticians in the embalming process
  • Beauticians who apply dyes and smoothing products

Companies in these industries and others should evaluate their use of formaldehyde. Here are some 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.

Volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde can have adverse serious effects. It is important that employers thoroughly evaluate its use and provide the necessary controls to protect their employees.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 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 Services, Inc. Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues or see past newsletters 

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