Indoor air pollution can be just as harmful to health as outdoor pollution – and sometimes even worse! One of the most toxic chemicals found in our homes is formaldehyde (pronounced for `mal de hide).
According to the Business Dictionary, formaldehyde is an obnoxious-smelling, poisonous, colorless gas, which dissolves easily in water.
Remember the frogs, worms and other specimens we had to dissect in high school biology class? They were preserved in jars of formaldehyde!
Scientists know that high levels of exposure to formaldehyde can cause cancer in humans. But in spite of this, the chemical is used to make hundreds of industrial and household products, including:
- glues and adhesives
- paints and caulks
- decorative paneling
- foam insulation
- fiber and particle boards
- laminated flooring
- permanent press fabrics
- cosmetics and hair care products
Even common everyday paper products, such as grocery bags, waxed paper, tissues, and paper towels, are treated with resins made from formaldehyde.
You can also be exposed to formaldehyde from tobacco smoke, gas stoves, fireplaces, or smog. Even we human beings give off small amounts of formaldehyde!
Why is formaldehyde so harmful?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that small amounts of formaldehyde are found in most homes. Though there is no safe level set for this chemical, they say, at low levels it probably won’t pose health problems.
But in people with environmental sensitivities, formaldehyde can cause headache, nausea, dizziness, breathing problems or irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, or skin – especially in the elderly, young children, or people with asthma, COPD, or other chronic diseases.
People that work with certain chemicals or laminated wood may be exposed to much higher levels of formaldehyde over long periods of time.
These workers may experience far more severe health effects, including leukemia and rare nose and throat cancers.
How can I reduce the amount of formaldehyde in my home?
If someone in your home seems especially sensitive to new product smells or has breathing problems, it may help to reduce the amount of formaldehyde in the air.
Newer homes built with more insulation and airtight construction tend to trap formaldehyde and other pollutants indoors. If possible, open windows or use exhaust fans to bring fresh air in and push contaminated air out.
“Air out” new products in a garage, carport or covered patio until the odor is less noticeable. The amount of formaldehyde given off by most new products is reduced over time, and will be almost gone within two years.
Wash new permanent press and flame-retardant clothes and curtains before using. If possible, buy used clothing, furniture, flooring, carpets, etc., from second-hand shops.
In order to meet the demand for healthier home-building materials, some manufacturers now make wood products without urea-formaldehyde (UF) glues.
- Lower-emitting pressed wood products may be labeled as compliant with the CARB (California Air Resources Board) Phase 2 requirements.
- Some pressed-wood products meet ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) or no-added formaldehyde (NAF) requirements.
- Some products, such as paints, are labeled “No VOC/Low VOC” (VOC means “volatile organic compound”).
Plants can remove formaldehyde from the air
NASA scientists studied the problem of formaldehyde and other VOCs in sealed living quarters, such as the space shuttle. They looked at how different species of plants can filter indoor air pollutants.
One NASA study found that the plant root-soil zone, where soil microorganisms flourish, appears to be the most effective area for removing VOCs such as formaldehyde.
These common microorganisms can biodegrade toxic chemicals when activated by plant root growth, so maximizing air exposure to the plant root-soil area is important.
Results of the NASA studies showed the plant species that removed the most formaldehyde from the air were the Bamboo Palm, Spider Plant, two types of Dracena, and the Peace Lily.
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Copyright 2018 by Holly B. Martin