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Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is common to the chemical industry. International production was over 46 billion pounds in 2004, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is well known as a preservative in medical laboratories, as an embalming fluid, and as a sterilizer. Its primary use is in the production of resins and as a chemical intermediate. Urea-formaldehyde (UF) and phenol formaldehyde (PF) resins are used in foam insulations, as adhesives in the production of particle board and plywood, and in the treating of textiles.

OSHA Standards

Exposures to formaldehyde are addressed in specific standards for general industry, shipyard employment and the construction industry. This section highlights OSHA standards, preambles to final rules (background to final rules), directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to formaldehyde. Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

  • 1910.1048, Formaldehyde
    • Appendix A, Substance technical guidelines for formalin
    • Appendix B, Sampling strategy and analytical methods for formaldehyde
    • Appendix C, Medical surveillance - Formaldehyde
    • Appendix D, Non-mandatory medical disease questionnaire
    • Appendix E, Qualitative and quantitative fit testing procedures

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Construction (29 CFR 1926)

Preambles to Final Rules

Directives

Standard Interpretations

Hazard Recognition

Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen. Short-term exposure to formaldehyde can be fatal. Long-term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause respiratory difficulty, eczema, and sensitization. The following references aid in recognizing formaldehyde hazards in the workplace.

  • Formaldehyde [1 MB PDF*, 2 pages]. OSHA Fact Sheet, (2011, April). Provides information on the harmful effects of formaldehyde on workers and how employers can protect them.

  • Formaldehyde. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1994, May). Provides an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) document that includes acute toxicity data for formaldehyde.

  • TOXNET for Formaldehyde. The National Library of Medicine Hazardous Substance Database.

  • Report on Carcinogens (ROC). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP). Identifies and discusses agents, substances, mixtures, or exposure circumstances that may pose a health hazard due to their carcinogenicity. The listing of substances in the RoC only indicates a potential hazard and does not establish the exposure conditions that would pose cancer risks to individuals.
    • Formaldehyde [286 KB PDF, 11 pages]. NTP classification: Known to be a human carcinogen.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks for Humans [4 MB PDF, 287 pages]. World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, (2006). IARC Classification: Carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).

  • Toxicological Profile for Formaldehyde. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (1999, July). Provides exposure risks, exposure limits, and health effects for formaldehyde.

  • ToxFAQs for Formaldehyde. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), (2008, September). Answers the most frequently asked health questions about formaldehyde.

  • Formaldehyde (CASRN 50-00-0). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).

  • Formaldehyde. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Lists formaldehyde as a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) under the National Emissions Standard Hazardous Air Pollutants section of its Clean Air Act.

  • Formaldehyde [712 KB PDF, 6 pages]. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, (2009, May). Provides a summary source of information of all potential and most severe health hazards that may result from formaldehyde exposure.

  • An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): Formaldehyde. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Discusses health effects, exposures, controls, and provides links to additional information on formaldehyde.

  • An Update on Formaldehyde [258 KB PDF, 12 pages]. US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), (Revised 2013). Discusses formaldehyde and its health hazards using non-technical terminology. Discusses why formaldehyde is a concern, sources of exposure, and what levels are normal.

  • Formaldehyde [501 KB PDF, 8 pages]. California Department of Health Services, Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS), (2003, January). Describes the adverse effects of formaldehyde and how to avoid them.

  • Indoor Air Quality in Florida: Formaldehyde [118 KB PDF, 2 pages]. The University of Florida Extension, Institution of Food and Agriculture Sciences, (2003, September). Covers hazards and control measures, especially for hot, humid areas.

  • International Chemical Safety Cards: Formaldehyde. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (2004, October 26). Summarizes essential health and safety information on formaldehyde.

Exposure Evaluation

Formaldehyde exposure is most common through gas-phase inhalation. However, it can also occur through liquid-phase skin absorption. Workers may be exposed during direct production, treatment of materials, and production of resins. Health care professionals; pathology and histology technicians; and teachers and students who handle preserved specimens are potentially at high risk. Consumers may receive exposures from building materials, cosmetics, home furnishings, and textiles. The following references provide information about the management of occupational exposures to formaldehyde.

  • Chemical Sampling Information. OSHA, (1999, January 14). Presents, in concise form, data on a large number of chemical substances that may be encountered in industrial hygiene investigations. Basic reference for industrial hygienists engaged in OSHA field activity.
  • OSHA Occupational Chemical Database. OSHA maintains this chemical database as a convenient reference for the occupational safety and health community. It compiles information from several government agencies and organizations. This database originally was developed by OSHA in cooperation with EPA.
  • Dermal Exposure. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page. Addresses dermal hazards to chemicals that can cause dermatitis or otherwise damage the skin, as well as to chemicals that can enter the body through intact skin and cause other toxic effects.

Medical Management

Analytical Methods

OSHA

OSHA has developed and validated methods for use by the Salt Lake Technical Center (SLTC) laboratory. The following method has been adopted by many laboratories for the analysis of chemical compounds.

  • Acrolein and/or Formaldehyde. Method 52, (1989, June). Includes validated sampling and analysis method for the determination of formaldehyde in workplace air.

For additional information, see OSHA's Sampling and Analysis Safety and Health Topics Page.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

  • NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-154, (2003). NMAM is a collection of methods for sampling and analysis of contaminants in workplace air, and in the blood and urine of workers who are occupationally exposed. NMAM also includes chapters on quality assurance, sampling, portable instrumentation, etc.

Possible Solutions

Engineering and work practice controls are the first line of defense against formaldehyde hazards. For instances where engineering and work practice controls cannot reduce employee exposure, respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE) are used. The following references provide possible solutions for formaldehyde hazards in the workplace.

  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-149, (2007, September). Provides physical description, exposure limits, measurement method, personal protection & sanitation, first aid, respirator recommendations, exposure routes, symptoms, target organs, and cancer sites.
  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1981, January). Contains information on identification, physical and chemical properties, health hazards, exposure limits, exposure sources and control methods, monitoring, personal hygiene, storage, spills and leaks, and personal protective equipment.

  • Controlling Formaldehyde Exposures During Embalming. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-149, (1998, October). Describes a local exhaust ventilation system for controlling exposures during embalming.

  • Formaldehyde. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topics Page.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Training

Training is required at least annually for all employees exposed to formaldehyde concentrations of 0.1 ppm or greater. Training increases employees' awareness of specific hazards in their workplace and of the control measures employed. It also assists successful medical surveillance and medical removal programs. These provisions will only be effective if employees know what signs or symptoms are related to the health effects of formaldehyde, if they know how to properly report them to the employer, and if they are periodically encouraged to do so.

Other Resources


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