Healthy Indoors Magazine

HI Jan 2019

Healthy Indoors Magazine

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34 | January 2019 Formaldehyde in our Daily Lives By Dr. Alice Delia W hen most of us think about form- aldehyde in products around us, engineered or pressed wood products come to mind. These are the big hitters because the resins used to hold the wood pieces together contain formal- dehyde. There are three types of resins commonly used in these products — urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formalde- hyde or melamine-formaldehyde. Urea-formaldehyde resins are used in adhesives, finish- es, particle board, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and molded objects. This resin has also been used in foam in- sulation (UFFI) and is generally found in homes built be- fore the 1970s, often in basements, crawl spaces, attics, and unfinished attics, but was largely discontinued once the high emissions of formaldehyde became known. Structural Engineered Wood Product Phenol-formaldehyde resins are used in the production of molded products, laboratory countertops, and as coat- ings and adhesives. Their weather resistance makes phe- nol-formaldehyde products the primary exterior building materials. They have a tendency to change the color of the wood so are less common in indoor applications, but the lower formaldehyde emissions have expanded their use. Melamine-formaldehyde is typically used in high-pres- sure laminates and when pasted onto particle board is called simply melamine and is used in many ready-to-assemble furniture products and cabinets. Melamine foam products are often used in acoustic insulation and as abrasive clean- ers, e.g., Magic Eraser® sponges. It's more tightly bound than urea-formaldehyde resins, so it has much lower form- aldehyde emissions. Aside from wood products, many glues and adhesives contain formaldehyde which enhances the bonding properties. In fact, just about any product used to join two or more components together may contain formaldehyde, e.g., caulk, grout, contact cement, spackle, liquid nails, sealer, and epoxy. Paints and coatings often contain small amounts of form- aldehyde as well, it's used primarily to prevent the growth of microorganisms that can change the properties of the paint and cause malodors. So, if you see "anti-" on a label, e.g., anti-microbial, it's likely formaldehyde or a formalde- hyde-releasing chemical is present. Personal care products such as shampoo and lotions as well as soaps and detergents often contain small amounts of formaldehyde to extend the life of the product. Nail prod- ucts may contain more formaldehyde since it is used as a hardening agent and prevents cracking. Many pet care products also contain formaldehyde to get rid of pet "riders" such as fleas and ticks. Professional hair and nail salons sometimes have a problem with elevated formaldehyde if adequate ventila- tion is not provided. The application of nail products and professional hair smoothing products releases relatively high amounts of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde in these products may be difficult to recognize since the ingredi- ents list may use a different name for formaldehyde or contain chemicals that convert to formaldehyde when used or when heat is applied.

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