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The Dangers of VOCs: Formaldehyde (CH2O)

Application Note #AQ-13-808

Formaldehyde Causes 115 Excess Cases of Cancer Per Million People Exposed Each Year ARB.CA Staff

A key component of the VOC family and a major focus for indoor air quality, Formaldehyde has been linked to a number of health issues. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified it as a carcinogen capable of causing negative health effects and odor at concentrations as low as 0.1 ppm. The Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has established an exposure limit to formaldehyde of 0.75 ppm for a maximum of 8 hours. Because Formaldehyde is utilized in numerous manufacturing processes for building materials and household products, it is typical for indoor air to possess a substantially higher concentration than outdoor air. Identifying exactly which materials are the primary sources of formaldehyde without specialized indoor air quality monitoring equipment is difficult due to varying rates of release in different environments. For example, in homes with large amounts of new pressed wood products or paints, levels can consistently be greater than 0.3 ppm.

< 0.05 PPM Good or “Green”
0.05 TO < 0.10 PPM Marginal or “Yellow”
0.10 PPM TO < 0.3 PPM Poor or “Red”
0.3 PPM and Higher Dangerous or “Black”


Common Sources of Formaldehyde

Newer buildings are at a much greater risk for containing high concentrations of formaldehyde. Any types of textiles like carpets, pressed wood such as wood flooring and particleboard, as well as paints and adhesives like wallpaper, latex paint, and cleaning agents can take a few hours to a number of months to release the majority of excess formaldehyde retained from the manufacturing process. Certain materials only release formaldehyde in various temperature and humidity conditions making it difficult to detect the primary source of contamination. The tables above show recommended limits of exposure as well as detected values of formaldehyde in various locations.

Monitoring Solution

AQ Expert Indoor Air Quality Monitor

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) offers credits IEQC 4.1 and 4.2 for maintaining indoor air quality at low VOC levels during construction as well as pre-occupancy. These limits vary for residential, commercial, and school buildings. Because many building materials emit Formaldehyde among other VOCs, the E Instruments’ AQ Expert portable IAQ monitor is the ideal solution for measuring and data logging sites to ensure a safe environment. This specialized instrument utilizes a very accurate photoionization detector to persistently monitor and record potentially hazardous compounds indoors.

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