formaldehyde in furniture


FORMALDEHYDE - THE CANCER DEBATE:   MDF or particle boards hidden by wood veneers, plywoods are common formaldehydes containers. Epidemiological studies suggest formaldehyde causes cancer, especially throat cancer.  “In 1980 the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology laid out a text-book strategy to counter the negative findings of a study that showed that rats inhaling formaldehyde got cancer.  The strategy was as follows:

1)  Claim that rats aren’t the right animals to study because they breathe through the nose, never through the mouth.

2)  Claim that the exposure levels were unrealistically high  (even if they were scientifically too low).

3)  Pay for new studies that will produce different results.

4)  Hire academic researchers to give ‘independant’ testimonials to the safety of formaldehyde and to put a positive spin on any studies that show cancer in rats.

5   Attack any scientist who says formaldehyde is dangerous.

6)  Move aggressively to fund universities and other research institutions to steer research in directions that play down formaldehydes’s dangers.[1]


In   A Brief Overview of MCS,  Cynthia Wilson of CIIN says: “ 1981, in response to the poisoning of thousands of people by urea formaldehyde foam insulation, the NRC commissioned a study called Formaldehyde and Other Aldehydes The report estimated that 10-20% of the population was at risk from low level exposure to aldehydes.  Though the report’s major focus was on the cancer risk, it did recommend an extensive study be done on chemical sensitivities.  Nothing was done....”

Research at the University of North Carolina, into the carcinogenic effects of aldehydes and the aldehyde precursors, dichloromethane and methyl t-butyl ether is on-going - Henry d’A Heck, Univ of Nth Carolina. 



(“CARCINOGENS EVERYWHERE” - Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly) 


                U.S. EPA published a report in 1998 saying that 100% of the outdoor air in the continental U.S. is contaminated with eight cancer-causing industrial chemicals at levels that exceed EPA's “benchmark” safety standards.  Using 1990 data on toxic industrial emissions, EPA applied mathematical models to estimate year-round average outdoor air concentrations for 148 industrial poisons. 

                For each of the 148 toxicants, EPA established a "benchmark" level that the agency considers safe. Eight of the 148 industrial poisons exceed EPA's benchmark safety levels all of the time in all the nation's 60,803 census tract areas.  All eight are carcinogens; that is, they are known to cause cancer: bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate;  benzene; carbon tetrachloride; chloroform; ethylene dibromide; ethylene dichloride; formaldehyde; and methyl chloride.

                EPA believes that being inside your home or workplace does not protect you from constant exposure to these eight carcinogens.  EPA said its mathematical models probably underestimate the true

levels to which the population is exposed.  Where actual measurements of toxic contaminants were available, EPA found that the measured levels exceeded the levels estimated by their mathematical models.

                In its report, EPA also acknowledged that it may have underestimated the health effects because of multiplier effects since people experience all of them simultaneously. The agency also acknowledged that many of the chemicals have no “benchmark” standards for some effects eg benzene and 1,3-butadiene have both been associated with reproductive and developmental effects but have no benchmarks, so those effects were ignored in this study.

                And finally, most (if not all) individuals are exposed to far more than just eight industrial poisons: add in automobile and truck exhaust, second-hand cigarette smoke, prescription drugs, emissions from power plants, smelters, incinerators, and so on.[2] 


                Ozone in the stratosphere shields the earth from UV light. Ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant. 80 ppb for 8 hrs is the federal standard being phased in.  Ozone is an insoluble-in-water gas which is irritating and toxic and a by-product of the reaction between car exhaust and oxygen.  With ozone inhalation, the epithelium of the respiratory tract reacts with unsaturated fatty acids  in the plasma membrane to form aldehydes and hydrogen peroxide.  This causes the activation of epithelial cells and release of lipids and cytokines which modulate inflammatory responses - Leikauf G D Airway Epithelial Responses to Environmental Oxidative Stress, 1995 and  (?)1996.  Leikauf,  Simpson et al state that there is still controversy over whether formaldehyde can affect the lower respiratory tract. Guinea pigs were exposed to formaldehyde or filtered air for 2 or 8 hrs. At concentrations relevant to environmental exposure (>0.03ppm), formaldehyde alters airway smooth muscle reactivity in guinea pigs through mechanisms that are shared with human airway smooth muscle tested ex vivo.  These findings suggest that  prolonged low-level exposures may generate abnormal responses in the airways not detectable after acute exposures.  This research is on-going.

                *Ozone does some damage to nasal tissue but the dose to the underlying tissues increases at the terminal bronchioles - Determinants of gas and vapour uptake in the respiratory tract,  CIIT Activities 16, No 3. 

                *Ozone air purifiers/generators do not reduce indoor pollutants.  Health effects:  ENT and lung irritation.  Causes significant temporary decreases in lung capacity in healthy adults. Short-term exposures can cause increased sensitivity to airborne allergens and irritants; can impair immune system. Long-term exposures to low-level ozone may lead to permanent reduction in lung capacity. (Health Hazards of Ozone -Generating Air Cleaning DevicesCalifornia Morbidity, March 1998.)

                *From ENVIROS - EPA Research Project;  Internet:  Ozone is given off by  photocopiers at levels which can increase over time [especially if you copy with the lid up and the scanning light hits the air;  older and larger machines are more of a problem especially if there is no ventilation]  and electrical kitchen appliances.  

                *From the Health Effects Institute - USA - Internet, March 1998:  Diesel engines emit more oxides of nitrogen which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone  (and emit more particulate matter - potentially carcinogenic/mutagenic).The USA EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has recently released a report which links diesel exhaust emissions to lung cancer even when exposure is too low to cause respiratory problems - concern is because of the hydrocarbons attached to soot particles in a mechanism that is analogous to that of other relatively inert particles in the lung  (hs-canada-digest, Nov ’98 and  <>).  Diesel exhaust exposure twice that found in industrialised areas can halve the production of sperm in mice - Science Univ of Tokyo, 1998

RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #633 -- January 14, 1999 --  



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