Formaldehyde in the Home

Most people know of formaldehyde only as a chemical used to preserve specimens of dead animals for science class dissection. But formaldehyde is actually a very common chemical used for a variety of different purposes and is a by-product of combustion and other processes. Formaldehyde can be found in many areas both inside and outside the home and other environments.

Some sources of formaldehyde are appliances that burn fuel, like kerosene space heaters and gas stoves. If these are not appropriately ventilated, they cause a buildup of formaldehyde and other pollutants in the surrounding air. Anything that burns fuel is a likely culprit for formaldehyde leaks. But there are also other sources or formaldehyde indoor air pollution that are more common and less obvious.

Pressed wood products contain urea-formaldehyde resin adhesives. This includes particle board products such as furniture, cabinets, shelving, and sub-flooring. Medium density fiberboard found in cabinets, furniture tops, and drawer fronts also contains these chemicals. Hardwood plywood paneling is yet another source of formaldehyde and is found in decorative wood wall paneling, furniture, and cabinetry.

In the 1970s, there were many homes being constructed with urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) which for a time increases the formaldehyde content in the air. Since 1985, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been regulating the use of formaldehyde in the construction of mobile and manufactured homes. Because of the high quantity of pressed wood products typically used in these homes, they had an inordinate amount of formaldehyde emissions.

While many individuals may be alarmed to learn about all of the common sources of formaldehyde pollution in their home, the good news is that as these products age, they release less and less of this chemical. But in newer homes or with newer products, formaldehyde emissions can increase with temperature changes and humidity. Whether it is an old home or a newer home, indoor air pollution can be reduced drastically by using a filtration system in the heating and air conditioning system.

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