According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, and strong-smelling chemical. Most of us probably don’t feel familiar with the name of this particular substance. However, formaldehyde is easy to find in our daily life. It is commonly used in producing household products, such as adhesives, coatings, dishwashing liquids, fabric softener, glues and paper products. Preservatives used in some medicines and cosmetics may contain formaldehyde. It is the same preservative used in mortuaries and laboratories. Formaldehyde is also used in wood products and fertilizers.
National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that cigarette smoke, gas stoves, and kerosene heaters are potential sources of formaldehyde. Moreover, it can come from most living organism metabolism in a little amount. To put simply, its existence is everywhere. Now that you can see a clearer picture of what formaldehyde is, I will continue to elaborate the effects of formaldehyde on human’s well-being.
Despite its various utilty in human’s life, there are also negative effects on our health both in short term and long term.
Short Term Effects and How To Deal With It
As I explained earlier, formaldehyde presents in both indoor and outdoor. The amount is low, less than 0,03 per million parts of air (ppm). Tolerance towards formaldehyde differs individually based on their age and health condition. Children and elderly people are more sensitive to formaldehyde exposure. People with pre-existing respiratory problems or other chronic illness are more sensitive to formaldehyde exposure. Studies on industrial workers, laboratories technician and other professionals who were exposed with formaldehyde most of their time suggest that their level tolerance towards it can improve overtime. NCI states that when formaldehyde levels exceed 0,1 ppm, some individuals with higher sensitivity towards formaldehyde would suffer negative effects such as:
- Respiratory Disorder
Formaldehyde is damaging for both if lower and upper airways you breathe it a lot. Sore throat, burning sensation in the nose and throat, and nasal congestion are symptoms of upper airways irritation. Upper airways irritation most likely takes place if formaldehyde levels exceed 1 ppm. Cough, phlegm and shortness of breath are symptoms of upper airways irritation. Lower airways irritation most likely takes place if formaldehyde levels exceed 5 ppm. Individuals with pre-existing asthma has a higher sensitivity when exposed to formaldehyde. In the case of formaldehyde levels exceed 50 ppm, it can result in pneumonia, chronic bronchitis or even death.
- Vision Disorder
Eyes are relatively more sensitive to the formaldehyde. Concentration of this substance above 0,03 ppm to 0,5 ppm may cause burning sensation, itching, tearing and redness. In the case of formaldehyde levels exceed 100 ppm or someone’s eyes get in direct contact with it, the result is severe optical injuries. Loss of vision is the worst effect.
- Skin Irritation
Formaldehyde Direct contact with formaldehyde liquid can cause irritation, like rash and hives. Excessive exposure to formaldehyde is also reported to cause allergic contact dermatitis. Fabrics are widely treated with formaldehyde-contained products, which increase the probability of skin irritation for some individuals who are prone to formaldehyde-induced allergy.
- Intestine Damages
In the case of formaldehyde being swallowed, it can cause severe damages in the stomach. The symptoms are nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Furthermore, it can develop damage on other organs including kidney, liver, pancreas, spleen. United States Departmen of Labor reports that ingestion liquid of as little as 30 ml contains 37 percent formaldehyde can lead to death.
Here are some actions to execute to individual who suffers from those conditions:
- In respiratory disorder cases, if the victims are still able to walk, take them to an area with fresh air. Victims who are unable to walk, should be removed carefully and seek for medical treatment as soon as possible;
- In eyes disorder cases, irrigate them carefully with plain water or saline for 20 minutes;
- In skin irritation cases, wash the contaminated areas thoroughly with plain water for 4 to 6 minutes. Use soap if available. Remove the victims’ clothing as it may also be contaminated with formaldehyde;
- In case of ingesting formaldehyde, victims who are still conscious should be given 100 to 200 mililiters of milk.
Long Term Effects and How To Deal With It
An experiment on rats was held in 1980 to observe the effects of formaldehyde exposure. The experiment showed that constant high amount of formaldehyde exposure could develop nosecancer in rats. There has been several studies of formaldehyde effects on human’s health, but resulting in diverse conclusions. No scientific research showed at what level formaldehyde exposure can lead to cancer. Still, some institutions in America such as Enviromental Protection Agency, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and Department of Health and Human Services, has classified formaldehyde as a reasonable human carcinogen under prolonged excessive exposure.
To reduce the risk of formaldehyde-induced diseases in the long term, there are some actions to do as preventive measures:
- Check the ingredients or material of every products you use directly to your body. Try to minimize formaldehyde content. Be critical about every products you choose to use for yourself and your family;
- Stay away or use mask to prevent inhaling the vapor from formaldehyde resins during your home renovation, newly-refurbished furniture, painting, using fertilizer or any other products that may contain the substance. Bring in fresh air or run the air conditioner to keep the vapor flows;
- Make sure to have sufficient ventilation and moderate temperature indoor;
- Do not smoke;
- Check regularly with your doctor if you work within industries with high amount of formaldehyde exposure.
In the end, it is almost impossible to avoid being exposed from formaldehyde. There is still no safer alternative for formaldehyde. However, by understanding the risk of being exposed to formaldehyde then we can take precautions to mitigate it.