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What is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used in the manufacturing of building materials and numerous household products. At room temperature, formaldehyde vaporizes into the air, potentially causing serious health problems. It is also a by-product of combustion processes. When you burn things like natural gas, wood, gasoline, or tobacco, formaldehyde gas is released into the air. The most significant sources of formaldehyde in homes are: pressed wood products like particle board, plywood paneling, and MDF (medium density fiberboard); foam insulation; carpets; drapery fabrics; resins; glues; cigarettes; and un-vented, fuel-burning appliances like gas stoves or kerosene heaters. Since the chemical is found in a range of household products, every home should be tested for possible exposure.

Limiting Exposure: The EPA recommends the use of “exterior-grade” pressed-wood products to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home. These products emit less formaldehyde because they contain phenolresins, rather than urea resins (pressed-wood products include plywood, paneling, particleboard, and fiberboard and are not the same as pressure-treated wood products, which contain chemical preservatives and are intended for outdoor use). Before purchasing pressed-wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture, buyers should ask about the formaldehyde content of these products. Formaldehyde levels in homes can also be reduced by ensuring adequate ventilation, moderate temperatures, and reduced humidity levels through the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Health Effects

How Can Formaldehyde Be Harmful and Dangerous? Formaldehyde is considered by the EPA as a known human carcinogen. The cancer-causing substance is classified as a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP). Health effects of formaldehyde include a range of visible physical symptoms as well as internal symptoms; these include, but are not limited to, skin rashes, burning and irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and breathing difficulty. Higher levels of exposure to the carcinogen can trigger asthma attacks in individuals.

When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure.

Although the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure are well known, less is known about its potential long-term health effects. In 1980, laboratory studies showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. This finding raised the question of whether formaldehyde exposure could also cause cancer in humans. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure Since that time, some studies of humans have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with certain types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, named formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen in its 12th Report on Carcinogens.

Inspection & Testing

Formaldehyde Testing – Bulk samples, such as laminate wood products, and air samples collected within a client's home can be analyzed for the presence of Formaldehyde:          

  • Air Samples -  Air NIOSH 2016M
  • Bulk Material High temperature treatment via HPLC

Regulations & Resources

Learn More About Formaldehyde (links) For further information regarding the effects of formaldehyde please see the following links.


The following organizations can provide additional resources that readers may find helpful:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers information about the use of formaldehyde in building materials and household products. The EPA can be contacted at:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Radiation and Indoor Air
Indoor Environments Division
Mail Code 6609J
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20460

202–554–1404 (EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TCSA) Assistance Line)


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has information about household products that contain formaldehyde. CPSC can be contacted at:

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

1–800–638–2772 (1–800–638–CPSC)
1-301–595–7054 (TTY)


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains information about cosmetics and drugs that contain formaldehyde. FDA can be contacted at:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993–0002

1–888–463–6332 (1–888–INFO–FDA)


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has information about formaldehyde exposure levels in mobile homes and trailers supplied by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA can be contacted at:

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Post Office Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782–7055

1–800–621–3362 (1–800–621–FEMA)


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has information about occupational exposure limits for formaldehyde. OSHA can be contacted at:

U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20210

1–800–321–6742 (1–800–321–OSHA)


The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services that was created to coordinate toxicology testing programs within the federal government; to develop and validate improved testing methods; and to provide information about potentially toxic chemicals to health, regulatory, and research agencies, scientific and medical communities, and the public. NTP is headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is part of NIH. NTP can be contacted at:

National Toxicology Program
111 TW Alexander Drive
Building 101
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709



Quick Facts

  • Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and used to produce many household products.
  • Formaldehyde sources in the home include pressed-wood products, cigarette smoke, and fuel-burning appliances.
  • When exposed to formaldehyde, some individuals may experience various short-term effects.
  • Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Research studies of workers exposed to formaldehyde have suggested an association between formaldehyde exposure and several cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.
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