How often have we come across this statement: 'Danger! Formaldehyde contaminated equipment. Avoid inhalation and skin contact.'? Have we given much thought to this substance and the consequences of its poisoning? No? Well, formaldehyde is an organic compound that is widely used by many industries, including ones that produce household products. It is present, both indoors and outdoors, as a colorless gas having a pungent smell. There are several dangers of its exposure to the human body, so its testing, in both homes as well as commercial spaces, has become a common practice.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has recommended testing for formaldehyde in all homes in America, to prevent the adverse effects of this carcinogen if it crosses the permissive level of 0.1ppm (parts per million). The most common signs of its poisoning are itchy watery eyes, skin irritation, fatigue, respiratory distress, headache, and cough. Long-term exposure to it is also said to increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
The various uses of formaldehyde in manufacturing units have made it difficult to ban its use completely. Efforts have been made to limit its content in everyday products, but trace levels of this compound still remain. The easiest way to measure it is using a 'passive formaldehyde monitor'. As recommended by the vendor, this monitor can be placed anywherewithin your home. It can be then be sent for analysis to any labs that do VOC testing. There are various labs all over the US dedicated to testing for this compound in products like plywood, plastic, textiles, food, cosmetics, paints, coatings, etc.
The equipment meant to test formaldehyde also depends on the product that needs to be tested. There are numerous companies dealing with kits to test its level in drinking water, textiles, and air. Most of the kits, apart from the ones to measure the level in air, are just for the collection of samples. The samples, once collected over a recommended period of time, need to be posted or delivered to the concerned labs for testing.
For accurate results, make sure the labs are able to perform the following tests:
- Product testing
- Bulk sample formaldehyde testing
- Formaldehyde by HPLC/UV
- Formaldehyde - NIOSH 2016
- Passive formaldehyde samples NIOSH 2016
Ways to Reduce Formaldehyde Levels at Home
Formaldehyde has a strong odor, but if you can smell it, then the concentration of the compound is already too high. Testing makes us aware of the exact level present in a particular product. Though the best way to avoid it is to keep away from things that contain formaldehyde, there are times that the product becomes a necessity.
Here are a few home remedies to decrease its level:
- If you have bought a new product for your home that contains formaldehyde, always unseal and keep it in the garage or store room with open windows for few days.
- Ventilate your home well. Keep the windows open to allow fresh air to enter the house, which will decrease its concentration. Using a fan to circulate the air can also be helpful.
- The amount of formaldehyde released from products increases with the rise in room temperature and humidity, so keep the temperature in check.
- Keep formaldehyde-absorbing plants like bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, and English ivy, to reduce the level of this harmful chemical.
- Install an air filter that can filter formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is commonly found in manufactured houses due to the extensive use of products like plywood, particle board, and other types of processed wood that contain the compound. This has resulted in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) setting standards for manufactured homes in 1984. Exposure to high levels, and for longer times, could lead to poisoning and also prove fatal. So, it is better to be informed and take precautions to reduce the allergy signs caused due to prolonged exposure to this chemical.