Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and is found in many building materials including pressed or laminate flooring, spray foam insulation, furniture and other building materials. Adverse health effects have been reported even at very low levels. Exposure symptoms include upper airway irritation, dry or sore throat, nosebleeds, itching and burning sensations of the nose, nasal congestion and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs. Long term exposure can result in adverse effects on the central nervous system, headaches, depression, mood changes, insomnia, irritability, attention deficit, and impairment of dexterity, memory, and balance. Children exposed to the same levels of formaldehyde as adults may receive larger doses because of their developing bodies. Furthermore, they may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same location because they are shorter and higher levels of formaldehyde may be found at ground level.
The best way to see if a suspected material contains formaldehyde is to send physical bulk samples of it to a certified laboratory. The material is placed in a chamber where it off-gasses and the formaldehyde levels are measured. Air testing can be achieved by using the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Method 2016 using a sorbent tube. The sorbent tube is connected to a low flow pump adaptor for approximately 50 minutes. The sample is sent back to the laboratory in a cold pack to maintain preservation.
In addition to using approved laboratory sampling methods, we offer a fast, accurate and cost-effective approach to measure formaldehyde in the air using a portable, continuous measurement formaldehyde meter (FM-801). A sensor cartridge employs the chemical reaction between formaldehyde and ß-diketone on a porous glass. The yellowing that results from this reaction is measured via photoelectric photometry with accurate readings to <20ppb HCHO, without significant cross-sensitivity from typical background compounds, making it ideal for Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) applications. Tests run in as little as 30 minutes. Some companies use lesser quality formaldehyde meters with detection levels only in parts per million (ppm) which is not sensitive enough to pick up low levels of formaldehyde that can impact your health.
Fluorescence Spectroscopy is also a very useful way to analyze formaldehyde off gassing. This test method has been correlated with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) § 93120, European DIN Standard EN-717, and ASTM methods D-5582 and E-1333. It has also been compared with DNPH testing used in NIOSH 2016 and found to be in good agreement.
It is important to keep in mind that a non-detect of formaldehyde in the air does not necessarily mean that formaldehyde does not exist in the suspect material. Conversely, a positive reading of formaldehyde in a bulk sample does not necessarily mean the air has been contaminated with formaldehyde. Furthermore, off-gassing of formaldehyde may increase during warmer and more humid conditions. Follow on testing and monitoring is recommended when validating an indoor environmental concern.
We recommend that everyone conduct indoor air quality testing in their home and at work to ensure a safe environment free from cancer causing chemicals like formaldehyde.