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Formaldehyde emissions into Indoor Air

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Formaldehyde is the mostly discussed indoor air contaminant, and the mostly regulated one as well.

Sources

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring gas. Small amounts of formaldehyde are present in outside air in urban areas and even in the countryside. Higher concentrations occur in indoor air, caused by numerous uses in products. Examples for sources are oxidation of methane in the atmosphere, combustion processes, automotive traffic, tobacco burning, but also certain manufactured wooden products, or some preservatives in liquid products.

Formaldehyde release from glued wooden products (plywood, MDF and more) are a special challenge because the most popular binder for such boards decomposes slowly in contact with water from normal air humidity. After an elevated initial emissions level, an equilibrium concentration is reached within some weeks that remains more or less constant over a longer period. The same binder is used in some mineral wool products. Newer binders are available that release less or no formaldehyde, but these have other draw-backs.

Formaldehyde is part of human metabolism as well and can be found in human blood, but also in several fruits. See Wikipedia for more details.

Toxicological relevance

At low air concentrations, formaldehyde can irritate eyes and the respiratory system. It is known to cause nasal cancer. There were reports indicating a potential risk that formaldehyde could contribute to leukemia. More symptoms can be caused at significantly higher air exposures that will not occur in residential indoor environment.

Formaldehyde is classified as class C1B carcinogen in Europe. While some scientific agencies recommend to reduce formaldehyde exposure as much as possible on that background, other serious and independent agencies report that formaldehyde air concentrations below 124 µg/m³ (= 0.1 ppm) will not result in significant cancer risk. Formaldehyde is reported to be one of the few carcinogenic substances that have a hygienic threshold below which the human body can defend itself and exposure will not lead to cancer. See Wikipedia for more details, as well as an overview of formaldehyde product emissions limit values and a summary of German UBA.

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Using synergies

If a manufacturer needs formaldehyde and VOC emission testing for markets in several countries, then Eurofins can try to help saving money by combining all required testing into one test setup, and by selecting the worst-case test method to obtain test data covering all requirements. This service is unique in the whole world. No other testing laboratory is approved for emission chamber testing by the same number of both US and European specifications and regulations for low-emitting construction products.

If it comes to formaldehyde, this combination of different test methods into one test setup requires a certain pragmatic creativity. The different test methods deliver more or less different test results for the same product sample. But in two cases this does not matter for product evaluation:

  • If a product complies with a test method that gives systematically higher values than the reference test method, then it will comply with that test method as well.
  • And if a product gives test results far below the limit values, much lower than the discrepancy between the test methods, then it will comply with the reference test method as well.
  • Nevertheless, these considerations might be rejected by regulators and programs that are run by non-experts; administrative staff may want to stick to the printed letter and not accept such analogy conclusions. This has to be clarified in each single case.

Contact to VOC Testing Laboratories

Please see here contact information of Eurofins VOC testing laboratories in Europe, China and Japan:
www.eurofins.com/voc-contacts.