The Formaldehyde Council will tell you that the stuff is a perfectly natural part of our world, and it is, in small doses. In larger doses, the stuff is used by Koch-owned Georgia Pacific and others to make particle board, plywood and other lumber products. It has been known to cause cancer for years, but the chemical industry has been fighting hard to prevent its inclusion on the Health and Human Services Report on Carcinogens.
This is an important event; It is an important list.
The Report on Carcinogens is a congressionally mandated document that is prepared for the HHS Secretary by the NTP.[National Toxicology Program] The report identifies agents, substances, mixtures, or exposures in two categories: known to be a human carcinogen and reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. A listing in the Report on Carcinogens does not by itself mean that a substance will cause cancer. Many factors, including the amount and duration of exposure, and an individual's susceptibility to a substance, affect whether a person will develop cancer.
In their fact sheet, the National Toxicology Program describes the risk:
What evidence is there that formaldehyde causes cancer?
Studies of workers exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, such as industrial workers and embalmers, found that formaldehyde causes myeloid leukemia, and rare cancers including sinonasal and nasopharyngeal cancer.
In laboratory animal studies, formaldehyde caused cancer primarily in the animal's nasal cavity.
Their suggestions for dealing with it:
Use lower-emitting pressed wood products, such as those that are labeled CARB (California Air Resources Board) Phase 1 or Phase 2 compliant, or made with ULEF (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde) or NAF (no-added formaldehyde) resins. Ask manufacturers about products.
Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home. Open windows and use fans to bring in fresh air. Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
Here is where it gets ridiculous. The National Toxicology Program of the United States Government is telling citizens to buy low formaldehyde or formaldehyde free products, but isn't doing anything about the sale of the regular, high-formaldehyde stuff.
It then is telling citizens to increase ventilation and use air conditioning, at the same time the as the EPA is telling people to go Energy Star and seal houses up tight. You can't have it both ways. If the stuff is a carcinogen it shouldn't be in our homes and it certainly shouldn't be allowed in Energy Star homes.
Home purifier expert
That's why we continue to say Ban Formaldehyde in building products.
See Jennifer Sass's take on this at the NRDC Switchboard.
More on Formaldehyde:
Koch Industries Backs Formaldehyde Council, Fighting Regulation of Carcinogen
Industry & Enviros to EPA: Regulate Formaldehyde (And Save Billions For US Taxpayers)