The Toxic Secret in Your Home – Formaldehyde
While there is still some debate going on as to the actual carcinogenic capacities of formaldehyde, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified it as a carcinogenic substance based on cancer statistics gathered from people working in environments containing formaldehyde.
At normal room temperature, formaldehyde is a gaseous substance which can be released by any of a number of things in the home. While this substance is all around us, it is even part of our bodily chemistry, the human body is not meant to be exposed to large amounts of it. Reactions to formaldehyde can vary from mildly irritating to carcinogenic.
Ironically, it is incredibly common. So common, in fact, that avoiding it will require some specific steps.
It is found in different types of glue and adhesives, and thus in products which use it in the manufacturing process – like pressed board, MDF, laminate flooring, and fiberglass wall insulation. Unbeknown to most people, these items can continue to release formaldehyde for DECADES after their construction.
It is also contained, albeit in smaller quantities, in some detergents, dishwashing liquids, carpet cleaners, antiseptics, and shampoos. Additionally, it is also found in some fabrics, cosmetics, nail polish and nail hardener, and even some medicines.
And it does not stop there: Formaldehyde is also a by-product of combustion. As such, it is created by burning gas, gasoline, kerosene, wood, and even tobacco. Cars with catalytic converters tend to release even more of it. Lastly, it is commonly found in PVC and similar plastics – including “artificial leather”, as well as latex paints.
Formaldehyde has become so common in our everyday lives that we surround ourselves with it – usually without realizing it. Its effects range from mild irritations to the nose, eyes and throat, to bleeding of the nose and throat, and in some cases, cancer. It is also known to cause dizziness and headaches, as well as chronic fatigue, it has the capacity to make you feel as if you just never get enough rest.
We tend to overlook one concerning fact especially in the case of small children, a lot of their lifetimes are spent indoors, right in the face of the formaldehyde release. As such, they are exposed to a lot more than someone who would be at work all day.
Concentrations of 30ppb have been known to decrease lung functions, and around 50ppb tends to lead to asthma problems. In fact, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessments has recommended that the ceiling be reduced from 27ppb to a mere 7ppb…
Getting rid of formaldehyde will require paying attention to what you use in the home, and where possible, replacing some items:
1. When purchasing furniture, insist on low or zero-formaldehyde items. If you already possess items that release formaldehyde, and you cannot replace them straight away, you could try to cover up the exposed areas; usually, in the case of pressed board furniture, the back side is exposed, and continuously releases formaldehyde. The ideal is to go for solid wood and steel items wherever possible.
2. When doing home repairs or renovations, insist on products containing little or no formaldehyde – like Zero VOC paints.
3. Screen the cleaning products, personal hygiene products, cosmetics, etc. that you buy – and check for formaldehyde content.
4. If you have to light any open flame inside the home, be sure it is in a well ventilated area – this counts for anything from a gas stove to a cigarette.
5. Some permanent press fabrics tend to emit formaldehyde – so if you have to use them, washing them with warmer water before use will help to release a good percentage of the contained formaldehyde.
6. Furnishings that release formaldehyde will release more during warmer weather, as well as under humid conditions. Take care not to create hot or humid conditions unnecessarily.
7. Steer clear from PVC items inside the home, and do not use plastic containers in the microwave – stick to glass.
8. In the event that you have to buy an item of furniture that contains formaldehyde, you could either ask the supplier to let it stand unwrapped for a few days before delivery, or you could leave it in the garage or an outside room for a few days until the worst of the release has passed. However, this is an imperfect solution – since the item could still release formaldehyde in small quantities for decades to come.
Ultimately, most of the things around us only contribute small quantities of formaldehyde to our environments – but unfortunately, all the little bits add up – and the end result is an unhealthy atmosphere. The fact that the air is inside an enclosed area makes it difficult for the gas to dissipate into the outside atmosphere, and you have to suffer the consequences.
Ideally, everybody should test his or her homes for formaldehyde from time to time. If you are sick, and chronically suffer from throat, nose or lung problems, you may want to do so urgently. Formaldehyde test patches can be obtained for around $40 – a small price to pay in return for the improvement in your health.
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