A Formaldehyde Update – Prepared for WHO
Years have passed since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines and concern arose over high levels of formaldehyde found in some travel trailers and temporary housing (FEMA trailers). Still today, there is a great deal of confusion regarding what are permissible levels of airborne formaldehyde in U.S. homes or indoor environments.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), acute and chronic health effects from exposure to formaldehyde vary depending on individual sensitivity. The typical threshold for developing acute symptoms due to inhaled formaldehyde is 800 ppb (0.8 ppm); however, sensitive individuals have reported symptoms at levels around 100 ppb (0.1 ppm) or less. Other studies also have demonstrated that health effects can occur in sensitized individuals at 100 ppb (0.1 ppm) or less for chronic exposures to formaldehyde. Most people can detect formaldehyde’s strong odor at levels as low as 50 ppb (0.05 ppm). Upper respiratory tract irritation can potentially exacerbate asthma symptoms and other respiratory illnesses, but there is no evidence that exposure to formaldehyde causes asthma, nor is it considered to have reproductive or developmental effects on humans (CDC 2008).