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Panel: Kimberly White
Media: Sarah Scruggs

What Is Formaldehyde? Formaldehyde occurs naturally and is all around us.

Formaldehyde is found in every living system – from plants to animals to humans – produced as part of our normal metabolic process. Formaldehyde is one of the most well-studied chemicals in use today. A large body of research supports it safety and protective regulatory standards are in place to ensure the safe use of formaldehyde-based technologies and applications.

Human Exposure to Formaldehyde

The general effects of formaldehyde on the human body are well-known. Inhaled formaldehyde is an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat at levels in the 0.5 – 1.0 ppm range. According to the large body of research available, the levels of formaldehyde in the air to which the public may experience (generally < 0.1 ppm) are not high enough to cause adverse health effects. To learn more, click here.

Humans Produce Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Humans produce about 1.5 ounces of formaldehyde a day as a normal part of our metabolism. Inhaled formaldehyde is rapidly metabolized and ultimately converted to carbon dioxide and exhaled. Formaldehyde does not accumulate in the body. To learn more, click here.

A Natural By-Product

Formaldehyde also occurs as a by-product of all combustion processes, such as forest fires, automotive exhaust and cooking. Low levels of formaldehyde occur naturally in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including apples, carrots and bananas. It does not accumulate in the environment or within plants and animals. To learn more, click here.

One of the Most Studied Chemicals in Use Today

Formaldehyde is found naturally in rural, urban and indoor air, and can be found or off gassed at very low levels in many household products such as latex paint, furniture and cabinets. Formaldehyde levels in typical indoor environments are well below concentrations that could trigger sensory irritation in most people. Typical household formaldehyde concentration levels are between 16 and 32 ppb. The World Health Organization has set protective indoor air guidelines for formaldehyde at 80 ppb.

Formaldehyde Designated for TSCA Risk Evaluation

When a chemistry -- such as formaldehyde -- is used in commerce, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to evaluate potential risks from the use of the chemical and address any unreasonable risks it may present to human health or the environment. EPA has been reviewing and evaluating chemicals for decades and the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) give the Agency additional authority. TSCA provides the framework to assess and evaluate chemical risks that have not been subject to regulation by other statutes.

On December 20th, EPA finalized the designation of the next batch of chemical substances for risk evaluation under TSCA. This announcement initiates a TSCA risk evaluation of formaldehyde, but it is important to note that – as EPA has said – designation of a substance as a high priority for evaluation “does not constitute a finding of risk” and should not be cause for concern.


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