As we know courtesy of FEMA's optimization experiments, Formaldehyde exposure is not a good thing. It gets worse; a new study links it to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. As we know courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency, energy efficiency is a good thing, which is why they promote Energy Star houses, which have effective insulation, high-performance windows and tight construction.
One would think that a standard coming from the EPA would care about health and air quality instead of energy (isn't that another department?) but no, they recommend tightly sealing houses to reduce air leakage, the biggest energy loser. A leaky old house might change the air once an hour; a tightly sealed house designed for Energy Star might be as little as 1/100 of an air change per hour.
What happens when you don't change the air enough? The concentration of toxic chemicals gets higher. Formaldehyde, as an example, found in particle board, MDF, (medium density fibreboard) fabrics, glues and paints, and most fiberglass insulation. (More info here)
Sources of Formaldehyde: Home purifier expert
Nowhere does the Environmental Protection Agency mention the environmental hazards of these chemicals in such a tight envelope. While it does recommend mechanical ventilation, it mentions the problems of mold and pollutants only in passing.
Big Steps in Building:
1) Make Energy Star houses healthy houses, not just energy efficient. The program is run by an agency that seems to have its priorities confused. "Protecting the environment through energy efficiency" is fine, but not at the cost of air quality and the health of occupants. The agency should make the Indoor Air Package compulsory and ban the use of products with formaldehyde or any other VOC where there is an alternative available in any house going for Energy Star certification.
2) Make the California standard for formaldehyde emissions national.
3) Aim for a complete ban of formaldehyde use in building products.