Formaldehyde is a recognized carcinogen and health threat.
As represented by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a number of watchdog agencies including the American Cancer Society, the FDA, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and others have classified formaldehyde as a known or probable cancer-causing agent, or carcinogen, and OSHA adds that it is not only a “complete carcinogen” but also “a sensitizing agent that can cause an immune system response upon initial exposure.” It is known to be highly irritating to the eyes and respiratory tissues and skin, particularly with repeated exposure.
Because of its classification as a toxin and carcinogen, strict guidelines are in place to define acceptable levels of formaldehyde, particularly for people considered to be at higher risk due to their environment (those living in FEMA emergency housing trailers or RVs, for example, or those with new carpeting), or to their professions (embalmers, hair stylists using certain products and medical lab technicians among others). For workers at risk of exposure to high levels of formaldehyde vapors, OSHA recommends annual training to alert workers to the dangers of exposure above recommended concentrations (formaldehyde levels above 0.1 parts per million, or ppm, can cause respiratory irritation and levels above 0.5 ppm constitute an “action level” warranting “initiation of worker medical surveillance”).
For the general population, the dangers of formaldehyde exposure have not raised significant concerns among regulatory circles, though there is no shortage of expert advice on minimizing exposure to the poison. The NCI recommends using exterior-grade pressed wood products (such as plywood, paneling, and particle board), ensuring adequate ventilation with use of formaldehyde-emitting products, and minimizing humidity in the home.