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Formaldehyde's Impact on Indoor Air Quality
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and outdoors.
Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.
Where formaldehyde is found
Formaldehyde is found in:
Resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products (i.e., hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard)
Building materials and insulation
Household products such as glues, permanent press fabrics, paints and coatings, lacquers and finishes, and paper products
Preservatives used in some medicines, cosmetics and other consumer products such as dishwashing liquids and fabric softeners
Fertilizers and pesticides
It is a byproduct of combustion and certain other natural processes, and so is also found in:
Emissions from un-vented, fuel burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.
How you can be exposed to formaldehyde
The primary way you can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde. Everyone is exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde in the air that has off-gassed from products, including composite wood products.
Resources and Guidance Materials, with Translations, for the Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Rule.
The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, signed into law July 7, 2010, by
President Obama, added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law established
limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products: hardwood plywood, mediumdensity
fiberboard, and particleboard. The national emissions standards in the law are designed to
reduce exposures to formaldehyde, avoid harmful health effects and mirror standards previously
established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for products sold, offered for sale,
supplied, used or manufactured for sale in California. Congress tasked the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) with developing regulations to implement this Act.
Specifically, this rule will:
Limit formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that are sold, manufactured, or
imported in the United States.
Require labelling these wood products as TSCA Title VI compliant one year after the rule is
Set testing requirements to ensure that products comply with those standards.
Establish a third-party certification program to ensure that composite wood panel producers
comply with the new emissions limits.
Level the playing field for domestic manufacturers who have a high rate of compliance with the
Ensure that products outside of California will meet the new standard and thus, not emit
dangerous amounts of formaldehyde.
Include exemptions from some testing and recordkeeping requirements for products made with
ultra low-emitting and no-added formaldehyde resins.
What are composite wood products and what types are covered by this rule?
Composite wood products are created by binding strands, particles, fibers, veneers, or boards of
wood together with adhesives (i.e., glues) and include hardwood plywood, medium-density
fiberboard, and particleboard. Formaldehyde is found in the adhesives used in a wide range of
composite wood products.
Composite wood products are commonly used in the manufacture of furniture, kitchen cabinets,
flooring, picture frames and wooden children’s toys, among other products
Legionnaires’ Disease is a type of pneumonia that poses little threat to healthy individuals, but becomes deadly to anyone with a compromised immune system. This is most prominent in anyone hospitalized or over 60.
According to a 2015 CDC report, of all the cases known to have definitely occurred in healthcare facilities, 80 percent of the incidents of infection occurred in long-term care facilities, 18 percent in hospitals, and 2 percent in both. Additionally, 88 percent of those cases occurred in people over the age of 60.
John Letson, the Vice President of Plant Operations at the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center believes that one of the major contributing factors behind outbreaks is the misdiagnosis of the disease. Most incidences of Legionnaires’ Disease are misdiagnosed as normal pneumonia. According to the CDC, a patient suffering from pneumonia with a temperature over 102°F or 39°C, diarrhea, nausea, or confusion may be suffering from Legionnaires’ Disease instead of normal pneumonia.
This disease can be very deadly. While the mortality rate is only 10 percent, that number goes up to 25 percent in long-term care facilities, and has even been reported to have reach as high at 46 percent in the past.
Interested in learning more?
Sources of Infection
Sources of infection can be anywhere there is water either being brought in from another part of the building or left sitting. Showers, faucets, plumbing systems, and hot water tanks can all be carrying Legionella.
Another potential danger comes from cooling towers, which is an ac unit for large buildings. The water particles they release could be pumping Legionella into the air like an aerosol. Although this is a less common method of transmission, it has the potential to threaten a larger area, as well as cross over into the water systems of neighboring buildings.
Any standing water that’s not drained regularly may also be a source of infection. This includes decorative fountains, hot tubs, and pools.
Additionally, another source of infection that’s less common but may lead to a higher incidence of infection is drinking water. Consuming infected water may lead to infection through aspiration, which is the inhaling of foreign substances from the mouth into the windpipe. While this often leads to an automatic choking reflex, it can happen without your knowledge.
Fortunately, there is no documented case of Legionella being transmitted from person to person.
Legionella bacteria is often found in freshwater environments, but becomes a threat when it enters complex, human-made water systems. Such systems tend to allow water to be stagnant for too long and allow the bacteria to freely spread throughout the system, or have areas that are difficult to clean, allowing the bacteria to re-infect the rest of the system after each attempt to clean it.
There are many different strains of Legionella bacteria, with only a few being dangerous to humans. According to the Journal of Nursing Home Research, the amount of legionella tested in a single water source is not an indicator of risk; amounts can vary greatly even from the same faucet and higher amounts does not correlate with higher risk of infection. Rather, the method to determine the risk of infection is the percent of individual sites (faucets, showerheads) that test positive for Legionella.
The recommended cut point based on studies of past outbreaks is 30 percent. Anything higher indicates increasing levels of risk, with below 30 percent indicating low risk. It’s recommended to test at a minimum 10 individual sites, plus 1 site per 100 residents. These tests are recommended to be taken at least once per year.
All testing is performed with EPA certified testing methods. This package includes testing for: