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Sources of Formaldehyde
Pressed wood products (hardwood plywood wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard) and furniture made with these pressed wood products. Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI). Combustion sources and environmental tobacco smoke. Durable press drapes, other textiles, and glues.
Formaldehyde serves many purposes in products. It is used as a part of:
- the glue or adhesive in pressed wood products (particleboard, hardwood plywood, and medium density fiberboard (MDF));
- preservatives in some paints, coatings, and cosmetics;
- the coating that provides permanent press quality to fabrics and draperies;
- the finish used to coat paper products;
- certain insulation materials (urea-formaldehyde foam and fiberglass insulation).
Formaldehyde is released into the air by burning wood, kerosene or natural gas, by automobiles, and by cigarettes. Formaldehyde can offgas from materials made with it.
It is also a naturally occurring substance.
What are the Major Sources?
Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation: During the 1970s, many homeowners installed this insulation to save energy. Many of these homes had high levels of formaldehyde soon afterwards. Sale of urea-formaldehyde foam insulation has largely stopped.
Formaldehyde released from this product decreases rapidly after the first few months and reaches background levels in a few years. Therefore, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation installed 5 to 10 years ago is unlikely to still release formaldehyde.
Durable-press fabrics, draperies and coated paper products: In the early 1960s, there were several reports of allergic reactions to formaldehyde from durable-press fabrics and coated paper products. Such reports have declined in recent years as industry has taken steps to reduce formaldehyde levels. Draperies made of formaldehyde-treated durable press fabrics may add slightly to indoor formaldehyde levels.
Cosmetics, paints, coatings, and some wet-strength paper products: The amount of formaldehyde present in these products is small and is of slight concern. However, persons sensitive to formaldehyde may have allergic reactions.
Pressed wood products: Pressed wood products, especially those containing urea-formaldehyde glues, are a source of formaldehyde. These products include particleboard used as flooring underlayment, shelves, cabinets, and furniture; hardwood plywood wall panels; and medium density fiberboard used in drawers, cabinets and furniture. When the surfaces and edges of these products are unlaminated or uncoated they have the potential to release more formaldehyde. Manufacturers have reduced formaldehyde emissions from pressed wood products by 80-90% from the levels of the early 1980's.
Combustion sources: Burning materials such as wood, kerosene, cigarettes and natural gas, and operating internal combustion engines (e.g. automobiles), produce small quantities of formaldehyde. Combustion sources add small amounts of formaldehyde to indoor air.
Carpets or gypsum board: do not contain significant amounts of formaldehyde when new. They may trap formaldehyde emitted from other sources and later release the formaldehyde into the indoor air when the temperature and humidity change.
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