SATURDAY FEB 16, 2008 (foodconsumer.org) -- The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention Feb 14 released a statement saying it has
completed preliminary testing on formaldehyde in 519 trailers and mobile homes
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assigned hurricane survivors and
found the average level of this toxic gas was too high for the residents to
stay in these trailers any longer.
The tests conducted from Dec. 21, 2007 through Jan. 23, 2008
showed the average level of formaldehyde in all units was about 77 parts per
billion (ppb) with the lowest 3 ppb and the highest 590 ppb.
U.S. background level was between
10 and 20 ppb.
The CDC sounded alarmed that the levels were underestimated
because releasing of formaldehyde in newer travel trailers and mobile homes and
during the summer would be much higher than the results obtained in the tested
trailers at this time of year. At the levels detected, the CDC was concerned
that health could be affected.
The agency advised that the families who lived in FEMA
supplied trailers and mobile homes should spend as much time outdoors in fresh
air as possible.
They should keep
windows open as often or for as long as possible to let in fresh air; keep the indoor
temperature as low as possible; and do not smoke, particularly indoors.
Children, elderly people and those who have medical
conditions should be moved out of the FEMA trailers as quickly as possible,
according to the agency.
During the week
of February 6, 2008, FEMA moved 983 families out of temporary housing and
continues to move between 800 and 1000 households out, on average, per week.
Formaldehyde, a human carcinogen recognized officially by the U.S. government, is commonly used in pressed wood products including hardwood plywood wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard and furniture made with these pressed wood products. Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, combustion sources and environmental tobacco smoke and durable press drapes, other textiles and glues, trailers and mobile homes are also releasing the toxic chemical.
Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause
watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty
in breathing in some people exposed at elevated levels at higher than 100 ppb,
according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
High levels of formaldehyde can trigger attacks in people
with asthma. Animal model studies show the chemical causes cancer in animals
and can cause cancer in humans.
The following is cited from cancer.gov for those who want to
know more about formaldehyde and cancer.
Formaldehyde and cancer: What you need to know
is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling gas that is used to
manufacture building materials and produce many household products (see Question 1).
Formaldehyde sources in the home include pressed wood products, cigarette smoke, and fuel-burning appliances
(see Question 2).
When exposed to formaldehyde, some individuals may experience various short-term health effects
(see Question 3).
Formaldehyde has been classified as a 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
(see Question 4).
Research studies of workers exposed to formaldehyde have suggested an
association between formaldehyde exposure and cancers of the nasalnasopharynx, and brain, and possibly leukemia
(see Question 5).
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling gas. It is
an important industrial chemical used to manufacture building materials
and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed wood
products such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard, glues and
adhesives, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, and certain
insulation materials. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an
industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a
preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.
How is the general population exposed to formaldehyde?
According to a 1997 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission, formaldehyde is normally present in both indoor and outdoor
air at low levels, usually less than 0.03 parts of formaldehyde per
million parts of air (ppm). Materials containing formaldehyde can
release formaldehyde gas or vapor into the air. Formaldehyde can also
be released by burning wood, kerosene, natural gas, or cigarettes;
through automobile emissions; or from natural processes.
During the 1970s, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was
used in many homes. However, few homes are now insulated with UFFI.
Homes in which UFFI was installed many years ago are not likely to have
high formaldehyde levels now. Pressed wood products containing
formaldehyde resins are often a significant source of formaldehyde in
homes. Other potential indoor sources of formaldehyde include cigarette
smoke and the use of unvented, fuel-burning appliances such as gas
stoves, wood-burning stoves, and kerosene heaters.
Industrial workers who produce formaldehyde or
formaldehyde-containing products, laboratory technicians, health care
professionals, and mortuary employees may be exposed to higher levels
of formaldehyde than the general public. Exposure occurs primarily by
inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapor from the air or by absorbing liquids
containing formaldehyde through the skin.
What are the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure?
When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm,
some individuals may experience health effects such as watery eyes;
burning sensations of the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing;
nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive to
formaldehyde, while others have no reaction to the same level of
Can formaldehyde cause cancer?
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 (1). Since that time, some studies of industrial
workers have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with
nasal cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer, and possibly with leukemia. In
1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded
that formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen. However, in a
reevaluation of existing data in June 2004, the IARC reclassified
formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen (2).
What have scientists learned about the relationship between formaldehyde and cancer?
Since 1980, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has conducted
studies to determine whether there is an association between
occupational exposure to formaldehyde and an increase in the risk of
cancer. The results of this research have provided the EPA and the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with information
to evaluate the potential health effects of workplace exposure to
Long-term effects of formaldehyde have been evaluated in
epidemiological studies (studies that attempt to uncover the patterns
and causes of disease in groups of people). One type of study, called a
looks at populations that have different exposures to a particular
factor, such as formaldehyde. A cohort is a group of people who are
followed over time to see whether a disease develops. Another kind of
study, a case-control study, begins with people diagnosed as having a
disease (cases) and compares them to people without the disease
Several NCI studies have found that anatomists and embalmers,
professions with potential exposure to formaldehyde, are at an
increased risk for leukemia and brain cancer compared with the general
population. In 2003, a number of cohort studies were completed among
workers exposed to formaldehyde. One study, conducted by the NCI,
analyzed 25,619 workers in formaldehyde industries and estimated each
worker’s exposure to formaldehyde while at work (3). The analysis found
an increased risk of death due to leukemia, particularly myeloid
leukemia, among the workers exposed to formaldehyde. This risk was
associated with increasing peak and average levels of exposure and the
duration of exposure, but not cumulative exposure. Another study of
14,014 textile workers performed by the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also found an association
between the duration of exposure to formaldehyde and leukemia deaths.
However, an additional cohort study of 11,039 British industry workers
found no association between cumulative formaldehyde exposure and
Formaldehyde undergoes rapid chemical changes immediately after
absorption. Therefore, some scientists think effects of formaldehyde at
sites other than the upper respiratory tract are unlikely. However, some laboratory studies suggest that formaldehyde may affect the lymphatic and blood systems. Based on both the epidemiologic data from cohort studies and the experimental data from laboratory research, NCI investigators
have concluded that exposure to formaldehyde may cause leukemia,
particularly myeloid leukemia, in humans. However, inconsistent results
from other studies suggest that further research is needed before
definite conclusions are drawn.
Several case-control studies and cohort studies, including
analysis of the large NCI cohort, have reported an association between
formaldehyde exposure and nasopharyngeal cancer, although others have
not. Data from extended follow-up of the NCI study found that the
excess of nasopharyngeal cancer observed in the earlier report
Earlier analysis of the NCI cohort found increased lung
cancer deaths among industrial workers compared with the general U.S.
population. However, the rate of lung cancer deaths did not increase
with higher levels of formaldehyde exposure. This observation led the
researchers to conclude that factors other than formaldehyde exposure
might have caused the increased deaths. New data on lung cancer from
the extended follow-up did not find any relationship between
formaldehyde exposure and lung cancer mortality.
What has been done to protect workers from formaldehyde?
In 1987, OSHA passed a law that reduced the amount of formaldehyde
to which workers can be exposed over an 8-hour work day from 3 ppm to 1
ppm. In May 1992, the law was amended, and the formaldehyde exposure
limit was further reduced to 0.75 ppm.
How can people limit formaldehyde exposure in their homes?
The EPA recommends the use of “exterior-grade” pressed wood products
to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home. 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.
Where can people find more information about formaldehyde?
The following organizations can provide additional resources that readers may find helpful:
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has
information about household products that contain formaldehyde. The
CPSC can be contacted at:
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814–4408
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains
information about cosmetics and drugs that contain formaldehyde. The
FDA can be contacted at:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857–0001
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
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation.
Report to Congress on Indoor Air Quality, Volume II: Assessment and Control of Indoor Air Pollution, 1989.
International Agency for Research on Cancer (June 2004).
IARC Classifies Formaldehyde as Carcinogenic to Humans. Retrieved June 30, 2004, from: http://www.iarc.fr/ENG/Press_Releases/archives/pr153a.html.
Hauptmann M, Lubin JH, Stewart PA, Hayes RB, Blair A.
Mortality from lymphohematopoietic malignancies among workers in
Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2003; 95(21): 1615–1623.
Hauptmann M, Lubin JH, Stewart PA, Hayes RB, Blair A. Mortality from solid cancers among workers in formaldehyde industries.
American Journal of Epidemiology 2004; 159(12): 1117–1130.