Formaldehyde - The Invisible Killer
Have you ever walked into a newly renovated home and catch a whiff of a strange, perhaps even pungent smell? Sometimes, the smell is so strong, it could even be a little nauseating. Well, you’re not mistaken. In fact, this smell could be coming from formaldehyde gas.
What is formaldehyde gas?
Formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable gas that gives off a strong odour. It is often found in resins which is used to manufacture wood products like hardwood, plywood, particleboard, among others. These materials are used in building cabinets and other furnishings in your home.
Formaldehyde gas can be found both indoors and outdoors. However, there are generally higher levels of formaldehyde indoors. The average level of formaldehyde gas indoors is about 0.02 - 4 per million (ppm) in concentration, while the average level outdoors is just 0.001 - 0.02 ppm (in cities). The levels of formaldehyde gas is even lower in rural areas and the country side.
Harmful effects of formaldehyde
At very low low levels, formaldehyde gas cannot be detected by smell. However, if higher levels are present especially in an indoor environment, you might experience harmful health effects. When indoor levels of formaldehyde are between 0.4 to 3.0 ppm, most people would experience watery eyes and a burning sensation in their nose or throat. Sometimes, it could even result in nausea and cause breathing difficulties.
If you happen to have young children and elders in your family, this is a cause of concern. Additionally, it could also pose a health risk for you if you happen to have asthma. High concentrations of formaldehyde could trigger asthma attacks. Even if you are healthy and well, long exposure to formaldehyde can also cause you to develop sensitivities to it eventually.
According to research, scientists have also found that formaldehyde is linked to nasal cancer in rats. The research is not as conclusive for humans. However, studies have suggested that there could be a link between formaldehyde and nose and throat cancer.
Due to the potential health risk that formaldehyde can cause to people, formaldehyde gas levels need to be at a safe level in indoor environments. According to the Permissible Exposure Levels of Toxic Substances report, formaldehyde gas levels should be kept to a maximum level of 0.3 ppm. Levels that are higher would be unhealthy and cause potential health risks.
Formaldehyde in buildings
As mentioned, formaldehyde gas has higher levels indoors than outdoors. This is because they are commonly found in adhesives which are used in building products, finishes, and furnishings. Due to its desirable properties and low costs, formaldehyde is often used to build indoor carpentry and furniture. That’s why formaldehyde emissions can come from floorings, shelving and other products that make use of medium density fibreboards.
If you home has formaldehyde gas that exceeds the safety level, it’s important for you to get rid of it. In small amounts, formaldehyde can be difficult to detect because it is seemingly odourless. However, by the time you can detect its smell, it’s probably way past the unsafe level.
If you happen to have kids or elders at home, ensuring that your home is safe is even more crucial. Since it’s difficult to detect formaldehyde gas levels in your home on your own, you should seek professional help.
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