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  • Tim M

Formaldehyde - It's Lurking All Over Your House

Formaldehyde ---

A nasty chemical compound belonging Volatile Organic Compound (family). It's most definitely in your home somewhere, not hiding far out of reach.

The VOC chemicals are basically the ones that cause cancer, the nasty ones; are carcinogenic. If you have respiratory issues, this chemical should be a concern for you. It should also be concerning to the young (children), old (elderly), and pregnant woman because these groups are typically more susceptible to the adverse health affects. The severity of the health effect is a function of the amount (concentration) of chemical present and length of exposure. Immediate symptoms from exposure to this chemical include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, coughing, dizziness / nausea.

Because it's found in all sorts of household materials - furniture made of pressed wood (OSB, particle board), glues, resins, clothing, body care, upholstery, and furniture. A quick Google will probably show over 100 common household products containing formaldehyde. There are even baby products on the market that may contain formaldehyde. The chemical is also found in automobile exhaust, industrial pollution, and tobacco smoke including e-cigarettes.

How Do I Detect Formaldehyde?

Although colorless, the formaldehyde will give off a smell. The smell is described by the industry as having a pickle-like odor. It’s the most noticeable in new furniture (new furniture smell) manufactured with this compound. At room temperature, the formaldehyde will "off-gas", meaning the formaldehyde-containing products will continuously expel formaldehyde gas into the air until the off-gassing process is complete. THIS COULD TAKE YEARS.

SUPER FACT: It’s estimated by the Healthy Homes Institute that it takes six to ten years for formaldehyde to out (off)-gas (stop emitting into the air).

The concentration of formaldehyde will go up with an increased temperature and humidity. Therefore, both ambient in-home conditions and in-home activities (like cooking) will affect the amount of off-gassing and therefore concentration of formaldehyde in the air.

Are there Codes / Regulations for this stuff?

In July, 2010 Obama had enough. He signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directed EPA to finalize a rule on implementing and enforcing a number of provisions covering composite wood products.

More information can be found clicking on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) link below.

What Can I Do To Limit My Exposure?

Somebody interested in limiting their exposure to formaldehyde can do several things:

  • Let new furniture air outside in the garage a couple days, prior to bringing it inside. This is especially important if the furniture is made of pressed wood because formaldehyde is commonly used in the adhesives material contained within the wood.

  • Purchase solid wood or furniture classified as Ultra Low-Emitting Formaldehyde (ULEF) or No Added Formaldehyde (NAF).

  • Be cognizant in regards to the humidity levels / temperatures in the home and try to replace with fresh clean air. Studies have shown that the off-gassing is exponentially less at a reduced indoor temperature. Other functions that would be ideal are good ventilation in the home, and low humidity. Furniture made of pressed wood could be moved from sunlit areas of the home to reduce concentrations in the home. Opening the windows frequently throughout the day is a good way to vent the home and bring in new air. An air efficiency expert can also be sought and mechanical devices such as air exchanges may reduce the condition.

  • Use an air purifier that reduces VOCs. We normally recommend an Austin.

  • House plants are another remedy for removing formaldehyde from the home. 8 NASA-Approved Plants that Remove Formaldehyde.

  • Always try to use cleaning products that are free of toxins. Here is a link providing  formaldehyde-free cleaning products.

It is possible to breath better and be healthier in the home. Recent studies are showing that clean, contaminant-free homes have positive impact on mental health, energy level, and living a longer healthier life.

Don't forget about your pets! They are susceptible to VOCs as well.

This is the first blog on indoor air quality. There are several other culprits that affect you and I will blog on these later. This includes carbon monoxide, flame retardants, asbestos, radon, mold, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

Feel free to ask us about formaldehyde on your next home inspection. We are always on the look-out for formaldehyde-containing materials and other materials or furnishings that contain chemicals or gases which may be detrimental to the health and happiness of yourself and home.

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