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Toxic Formaldehyde: Lurking in All These Secret Household Locations!

Formaldehyde, the colorless, strong-smelling gas often associated with embalming fluid or preservatives in medical labs, is much more commonly used than most consumers realize.

In fact, chances are high that you've already inhaled or absorbed some today just by going about your morning routine. The idea of brushing your teeth or washing your hair with formaldehyde-infested products is unpleasant, to say the least, but it's also a real health danger.

Formaldehyde, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is a toxic cancer-causing substance (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a probable human carcinogen).

Formaldehyde in Your Home

It sure looks nice ... but this room is largely made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which the EPA says emits more formaldehyde fumes than any other pressed wood product.

The primary ways people are exposed to this poisonous substance is by inhaling its vapors from the air or absorbing liquids that contain it through the skin. Here are some of the common sources that may be in your home:

  • Personal care products (shampoo, toothpaste, mascara, air fragrances, aftershave, cosmetics, nail polish)

  • "No-iron" durable-press clothing, fabrics and draperies

  • Plywood and particleboard used to build homes

  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) used for cabinets and furniture

  • Glues and adhesives

  • Paints and coatings

  • Certain insulation materials (urea-formaldehyde foam and fiberglass)

  • Automobile emissions

  • Emissions from burning wood, kerosene or natural gas

  • Cigarette smoke

How Much Formaldehyde Does it Take to Cause Health Issues?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), as few as 0.1 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde in air can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, stuffy nose, nausea, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, skin rashes and allergic reactions. The EPA says, "It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans."

And as with most chemicals, whereas some people will have a relatively high "tolerance" and not show noticeable symptoms when exposed, others may be extremely sensitive. There have been documented cases of people who have had allergic or asthmatic reactions to formaldehyde just from wearing durable-press clothing that contains the substance.

No-Iron PantsNo-iron pants and shirts may save you time ironing, but they also outgas formaldehydes fumes for you to inhale throughout the day.

Although CPSC says that formaldehyde levels in indoor and outdoor air are usually less than 0.03 ppm, this level can vary tremendously depending on the products in your home. One of the biggest concerns comes from pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. The worst of these is medium-density fiberboard (often used for drawer fronts, cabinets and furniture tops), as it's known to emit more formaldehyde fumes than any other pressed wood product.

Fortunately, since 1985 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has required that prefabricated and mobile homes be built only from plywood and particleboard that conform to specified formaldehyde emission limits, however homes built prior to this had no such standards.

Another concern is urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) that was widely used in the 1970s. According to the EPA, many homes with this insulation were found to have high indoor levels of formaldehyde. Few homes use this product today, however, and UFFI formaldehyde emissions decline over time so older homes with UFFI are not likely to be emitting high levels today.

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Formaldehyde

Alarmingly, even with the newer safeguards in place, the EPA says that, "In homes with significant amounts of new pressed wood products, levels [of formaldehyde] can be greater than 0.3 ppm." Remember that CPSC found health effects occurred with levels as low as 0.1 ppm.

The EPA also says that, "Average concentrations in older homes without UFFI are generally well below 0.1 ppm." But what about homes that do have UFFI or a combination of UFFI and pressed wood products? And, what these estimates fail to take into account are the exposures we're receiving directly from personal care products we apply directly to our bodies.

Avoid the typical commercial cosmetics & personal care products, which contain multiple potentially toxic chemicals including for many formaldehyde. Use safe, natural cosmetics and body care products instead.

See List of Recommended Products Now

See the List of Approved Natural Health Body Care Products Now

Reducing your exposure to this cancer-causing substance as much as possible is a prudent choice. Here are some tips, from the EPA and the CPSC, to reduce formaldehyde levels in your home.

  • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers regularly (high temperatures and humidity increase formaldehyde emissions).

  • Make sure your home is well ventilated, especially after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.

  • Use an air cleaning and purification system in your home that utilizes natural "photocatalysis" process.

  • Use "exterior-grade" pressed wood products (they emit less formaldehyde) or avoid pressed wood products altogether.

  • Buy furniture or cabinets that are mostly laminated or coated (unlaminated, or raw, pressed wood panels generally emit more formaldehyde).

  • Wash durable-press fabrics before wearing them.

  • Opt for natural cosmetics and body care products - see the list of available natural cosmetics now


National Cancer Institute

Consumer Product Safety Commission

Environmental Protection Agency: Formaldehyde

Toneatronic: Toxins in Your Home

Environmental Working Group

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