Formaldehyde in America

There is a dramatic increase in concern recently about the health effects of formaldehyde on the human body comes, in part, from a concern about the amount of formaldehyde in some of the United States’ lumber supply. A recent 60 Minutes episode exposed a lumber company as having “over the legal limit” levels of formaldehyde in their products. While their American made products meet these standards, their Chinese imports do not. Most of their cheaper laminate flooring is made in China (4). In this world of cancerous and dangerous materials all around us, what is formaldehyde? And, what are the possible health effects for a person living in a house that has been built with formaldehyde contaminated lumber?

The Environmental Protection Agency describes formaldehyde as a “colorless, flammable gas at room temperature [that] has a strong odor … and may cause adverse health effects (1).” Formaldehyde is used in many of things that surround us. It is known to be present in wood products, building materials, glues, fabrics, and paints (1). According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry:

“Nasal and eye irritation, neurological effects, and increased risk of asthma and/or allergy have been observed in humans breathing 0.1 to 0.5 [parts per million]. Eczema and changes in lung function have been observed at 0.6 to 1.9 ppm.

Decreased body weight, gastrointestinal ulcers, and liver and kidney damage were observed in animals orally exposed to 50-100 mg/kg/day formaldehyde.” (2)

This human hazard of a chemical is being used at unnerving levels higher than California state standards of 0.75 parts per million (5).

One lumber importer and manufacturer made a promise to the public. They pride themselves on being “the flooring industry’s first technical facility to conform to California standards (3).” You can form your own opinion about the fact that they have established their own laboratory to meet and exceed high American health standards. However, two environmental activists took it upon themselves to purchase 150 cases of their wood products to have them tested at labs around the area. The levels of formaldehyde were six to seven times the state’s legal limit (4). One of the people responsible for the testing of the laminate flooring said “[the levels were] so high … that one of [the] test labs thought their machine was broken” (4). These labs showed and proved through their analysis that a company was presenting to the public a product that was hazardous to their health.

The importance of independent third party laboratories is all around us. We need these types of analyses so that we can maintain a level of accountability for regulatory compliance and the protection our population. Formaldehyde is hazardous to human health. We all need to be actively engaged in making sure the products we use every day are safe for human use. Contact Armstrong Forensic Laboratory for forensic analysis and testing services.