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Formaldehyde Exposure and Common Household Products

​What Parents Need to Know:

Children are more impacted by some certain environmental hazards, because their bodies are smaller compared with the same exposure an adult might experience. Their bodies are also still developing. Crawling or playing on the floor or ground may bring them closer to the hazard.

Facts about Formaldehyde:

Formaldehyde is produced normally by our bodies and is one of the most common indoor air pollutants. Formaldehyde can be found in:

  • Hundreds of household materials, such as:
    • Home furnishings
    • "Permanent press" clothing
    • Personal care products (e.g., cosmetics)
    • Building materials (e.g., laminate flooring, walls, cabinets, carpet)
  • Smoke from cigarettes and other tobacco products, gas stoves, and open fireplaces
  • Smog

Health Effects of Formaldehyde:

Formaldehyde exposure may potentially cause a variety of symptoms and adverse health effects.

Low levels

Formaldehyde can be released into the air (off-gassing) from building materials or other products that are made with it. Off-gassing produces very low levels of formaldehyde in the air. These low levels can cause:

  • Scratchy or watery eyes
  • Irritated throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated skin

High levels

People exposed to high levels of formaldehyde for a long time can develop inflammation and irritation of the throat and the lungs. This type of exposure would most likely occur on the job and not at home from furniture or wood flooring.

Other health effects

  • People with asthma may have trouble breathing (wheezing) when exposed to formaldehyde.
  • Women exposed to formaldehyde may have trouble with their menstrual periods.
  • Formaldehyde can cause cancer. Exposure to formaldehyde over many years can increase the risk of cancer.

How to Reduce Your Family's Potential Exposure to Formaldehyde:

There are many ways to reduce exposure. Usually, removing the source is the first step in in Industrial Hygiene practice to decrease exposure. Additional options include:

  • Use products that are urea formaldehyde free.
  • Do not smoke, especially indoors, because the smoke contains formaldehyde.
  • Let new products off-gas somewhere outside of your living space.
  • Wash permanent-press curtains and clothing before using them.
  • During installation and even shortly thereafter, increase ventilation. (Although if your child has asthma, if outdoor air pollution or pollen are triggers, be aware that this might also increase those exposures).
  • Try to keep temperature and humidity as low as possible, because the release of formaldehyde is directly associated with increases in temperature and humidity.

Parent FAQs:

Should my child be tested for formaldehyde exposure?

No. Testing blood or urine does not tell your doctor or nurse how much formaldehyde has gotten into your child. The results will not tell your nurse or doctor what to do about the situation. 

Should I conduct indoor air testing in my home?

Testing indoor air is generally not needed. There are simple steps to reduce exposure (see the recommendations above). Contact your regional pediatric environmental health specialist (www.PEHSU.net) for more information.

Additional Resources: 

Disclaimer. This material was supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and funded (in part) by the cooperative agreement FAIN: 1U61TS000237-02 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Acknowledgement: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the PEHSU by providing partial funding to ATSDR under Inter-Agency Agreement number DW-75-95877701. Neither EPA nor ATSDR endorse the purchase of any commercial products or services mentioned in PEHSU publications.

Last Updated
4/16/2015
Source
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2015)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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