Although the term formaldehyde describes various mixtures of formaldehyde, water, and alcohol, the term "formalin" is used to describe a saturated solution of formaldehyde dissolved in water, typically with another agent, most commonly methanol, added to stabilize the solution. Formalin is typically 37% formaldehyde by weight (40% by volume) and 6-13% methanol by volume in water. The formaldehyde component provides the disinfectant effects of formalin.
The OSHA Formaldehyde standard (29 CFR 1910.1048) and equivalent regulations in states with OSHA-approved state plans protects workers exposed to formaldehyde and apply to all occupational exposures to formaldehyde from formaldehyde gas, its solutions, and materials that release formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent that can cause an immune system response upon initial exposure. It is also a cancer hazard. Acute exposure is highly irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat and can make anyone exposed cough and wheeze. Subsequent exposure may cause severe allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Ingestion of formaldehyde can be fatal, and long-term exposure to low levels in the air or on the skin can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis and itching. Concentrations of 100 ppm are immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH).
Note: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers 20 ppm of formaldehyde to be IDLH.
Workers can inhale formaldehyde as a gas or vapor or absorb it through the skin as a liquid. They can be exposed during the treatment of textiles and the production of resins. In addition to healthcare professionals and medical lab technicians, groups at potentially high risk include mortuary workers as well as teachers and students who handle biological specimens preserved with formaldehyde or formalin.
Airborne concentrations of formaldehyde above 0.1 ppm can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. The severity of irritation intensifies as concentrations increase.
Provisions of the OSHA standard require employers to do the following:
Employers are required to do the following regarding worker exposure records:
For more information on this, and other healthrelated issues affecting workers, visit OSHA’s web site at www.osha.gov.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies or standards. It does not impose any new compliance requirements. For a comprehensive list of compliance requirements of OSHA standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals upon request. The voice phone is (202) 693-1999; the teletypewriter (TTY) number is (877) 889-5627.
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