Formaldehyde

Formaldyhe is among the most commonly encountered chemicals in the air. It has been used for more than a century in numerous chemical plants, hospitals and in research facilities. It has been the focus of study by toxicologists, epidemiologists, and occupational physicians for at least 70 years.

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We have been involved in the study and regulation of this chemical for the past 35 years. We have conducted studies to understand formaldehyde’s capacity to cause irritation at low doses, and its alleged potential to cause respiratory cancer in workers exposed to very high doses for many years. We have submitted comments to regulatory and non-regulatory bodies regarding the acute and chronic doses that we believe are hazardous.

We have also studied formaldehyde exposures from residential materials, including laminate flooring. 

Key Projects

  • 1991: Chairman of Industrial Health Foundation’s Expert Panel, charged with recommending an OEL for formaldehyde.
  • Participated in the scientific debate regarding acceptable levels of emissions of tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in water from pulp and paper mills (GA, NC, and WA; 1990). Also identified acceptable levels of TCDD, benzene, formaldehyde, and chromium in air and soil.
  • Assessment of health hazards of formaldehyde in mobile homes (Missouri). In 1999, evaluated historical health hazards, including asthma, cancer, and immune and respiratory system diseases associated with presence of various concentrations of formaldehyde in mobile homes.  Some of this work was used in personal injury litigation.
  • Evaluation of occupational standards for formaldehyde (Washington, DC). In 1993-1994, on behalf of the Formaldehyde Institute, convened a panel of experts to identify the airborne concentration of formaldehyde that does not produce sensory irritation.  A 50-page peer-reviewed paper was eventually published.
  • Brazilian Blow-Out (hair dye/straightener): We were the first to document that it could be expected that some persons who worked in certain workplaces would experience eye and nose irritation (mostly hairdressers) when they used this particular hair straightener (which contained formaldehyde). Dr. Paustenbach’s former colleagues published these results in 2015. 

Publications

Book Chapters

  • Paustenbach, D.J., Y. Alarie, T. Kulle, N. Schacter, R.G. Smith, J. Swenberg, H.P. Witschi, and S. Horowitz. 1997. A recommended occupational exposure limit for formaldehyde based on irritation. J Toxicol Environ Health. 50(3):217-63.
 

Presentations

  • 1992 (June).  The rationale for the proposed TLV for formaldehyde. Presentation at the Annual American Industrial Hygiene Conference, Boston, MA.