What is formaldehyde poisoning?

Formaldehyde is a potentially dangerous chemical, however it can be found in many products and is used in many different industries. When people talk about formaldehyde poisoning, they are usually referring to respiratory contact, absorbed through the skin, or ingested. The chemical can be present as a gas in the products in which it was used, and continued contact can make people seriously ill. Alternatively, someone may get high concentration levels on their skin or, in rare circumstances, ingest it. The former is likely to cause skin irritation and the latter can be fatal.

When people are poisoned by formaldehyde through inhalation, they may be routinely exposed to the gas. either in work environments or at home. In the late 2000s, for example, trailers donated to help victims of the devastating Hurricane Katrina were found to contain much higher than normal or acceptable levels of formaldehyde gas. Ultimately, the decision was made to remove the families from the trailers, due to the potential hazards and long-term risks that chemical exposure could create.

Some of the symptoms of formaldehyde inhalation or respiratory poisoning affect the way people breathe. The nose may become runny or stuffy, and the eyes may itch or water. Over time, repeated exposure can lead to conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma. Children are at the greatest risk of this and may succumb sooner from the effect of gas exposure. The presence of the gas could also affect and be absorbed through the skin, and may cause a rash or chronic skin irritation. Also, since this chemical is a carcinogen, exposure on a regular basis raises the risk of developing cancer.

Prolonged exposure is not required to cause formaldehyde poisoning. Inhaling a large amount of fumes at one time can cause these symptoms. Those who have been exposed to formaldehyde in large amounts should seek medical attention. People can also become sensitized to the chemical and may react with increased symptoms if exposed again.

Since formaldehyde is also found in a number of household products, ingestion of the liquid form of this chemical is possible. This is extremely dangerous and medically urgent. Consumption of even an ounce has been linked to death, and in children it may not even require that much. Any product that contains dangerous chemicals must be kept out of the reach of children to avoid this deadly scenario.

Although it is possible to avoid some formaldehyde, it is not always possible to avoid it because the gas is present in the atmosphere. What makes sense is working to reduce it at home and establishing safety protocols for those who use it at work. Homes in many countries now must meet certain building standards that can keep levels of the chemical low, but older homes could have higher levels. There are many labs that sell a formaldehyde test kit that can test the air quality in homes to determine if levels are too high, and may have strategies to reduce formaldehyde. Symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning, such as chronic respiratory conditions and skin rashes, could be a good reason to perform this test.

Go up