Formaldehyde Hazards Under Probe. A bill is in the works to place federal limitations on formaldehyde in homes. Industry and environmental groups have backed the proposed bill, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Formaldehyde is an invisible gas known to cause cancer, can also cause other illnesses ranging from nosebleeds to chronic bronchitis, and can aggravate asthma. Commonly used in manufactured homes and furniture,formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The International Agency for Research on Cancer is an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The chemical formaldehyde is used in the glues needed in the manufacture of composite wood products in the United States and internationally, noted the Journal. Composite woods are often used to make furniture. In application for decades, formaldehyde is considered by manufacturers to be economical, said the Journal. Of note, formaldehyde can also be found in other common products, such as cosmetics.
The bill, which is expected to increase consumer furniture prices was introduced in September by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Democrat-Minnesota) and Senator Mike Crapo, (Republican-Idaho), said the Journal, and seeks to lower indoor formaldehyde emissions. The proposed bill would apply a formaldehyde standard applicable to “particleboard, plywood, and medium-density fiberboard,” the Journal added.
Formaldehyde In Homes
The Journal pointed out that, generally, no federal standard exists for formaldehyde emissions in homes. According to the Journal, the Department of Housing and Urban Development does set limits on the chemical in plywood and particleboard; however, those standards only apply to materials used in the production of prefabricated and mobile homes. The proposed bill would mandate that composite woods sold in the U.S. meet emission standards for the chemical at approximately 0.09 parts per million (ppm). The legislation requires the standards be in place by January 2012, and, noted the Journal, the federal standards would emulate those drafted in 2007 and just adopted in California.
Senate bill proponents have expressed concern regarding other side effects from formaldehyde, many of which have come to light following the Toxic FEMA Trailer fiasco in which displaced hurricane Katrina victims were housed in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers found to be contaminated with high formaldehyde levels. Victims complained of a wide variety of adverse health effects typical of those experienced with exposure to formaldehyde.
The Journal explained that, a “volatile organic compound,” formaldehyde “vaporizes and turns into gas at room temperature.” According to David Jacobs, director of research at the National Center for Healthy Housing and an adjunct professor in environmental health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, products manufactured with the toxin can release dangerous gas into the air, a phenomenon described as “off-gassing,” reported the Journal. Because some energy efficient houses offer limited ventilation, this can be problematic, according to Dick Titus, executive vice president of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, a cabinet manufacturers and suppliers trade group.