FORMALDEHYDE – a gas pollutant.
What is Formaldehyde?
A common and toxic VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) is formaldehyde, which is released from some plywood, fibreboard (MDF), furniture and glues among other materials.
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in our atmosphere. Sources include from digestion processes in animals and humans.
Here at Habitat Property Services, we can test for formaldehyde from $50 per room. Best testing conditions are if the room is closed up for several hours before testing. The test takes about 45 minutes.
Where does it come from?
Formaldehyde is a chemical widely used in the manufacture of building materials and household products.
It can also be found in smoke from fires, smog, tobacco smoke and vehicular exhaust fumes as well as unvented, fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, unflued gas and kerosene heaters.
Newer pressed wood is a common source of higher levels. Formaldehyde stops being released after it has been ventilated for a while, so older materials are safer. The time it takes depends on how much ventilation the room gets. If you can’t remove the pressed wood, air the room out as much as possible. People can often smell or feel the difference between say a new house, and one that’s several months old.
In general, higher VOC levels are found in building materials, furniture and finishes when:
- the materials are new
- conditions are hot and humid
- the house is isn’t adequately ventilated with fresh air.
Some materials emit pollutants continuously, although the quantity can decrease over time.
Building products that release VOCs include:
- paints, polyurethanes and varnishes that are manufactured from formaldehyde, mercury, arsenic, selenium, lead or cadmium
- adhesives and resins
- wallpaper, vinyl and carpet
- furnishing foams and fabrics
- LOSP-treated timber
- manufactured wood products such as some particleboards, medium density fibreboard (MDF) and plywood.
Why it’s harmful: Formaldehyde is released from the resin, which could be in panelling or veneers. The average home has more than 25 parts per billion of formaldehyde in the air, and levels between 40 and 500 ppb can cause health issues. Formaldehyde causes 115 cancer cases per million people in the US because many homes have more than 200 ppb.
There is a range of effects on occupants including headaches, dizziness and respiratory irritation. Long-term exposure at high levels, which is more common at the workplace than at home, can cause kidney and liver effects, cancer and chromosomal damage.
What can we do about it?
VOCs can be controlled by careful choice of products and by ventilating the house well. It is important to know that VOC levels are quite high when a house is just built while materials off-gas their most freely evaporated volatiles but VOC levels then fall as time goes by.
They will off-gas at room temperature particularly when the building products are new, so new buildings should be well ventilated, particularly during construction and for the first 4–6 weeks of occupation, to allow new building products to off-gas most of their formaldehyde and thus reduce the risk of formaldehyde gas irritation.
Habitat Property Services – meth testing houses in Auckland, also do lead and asbestos sampling. The best price for formaldehyde testing is when it’s done while technician is already at the site. This means no travel cost.
Are there standards for testing formaldehyde levels in NZ?
Standards New Zealand refers to two internationally recognised (ISO) Standards that set out agreed methods for testing formaldehyde levels in textiles.
Below are some useful links if you’d like more information.
BRANZ on indoor air quality – http://www.branz.co.nz/cms_show_download.php?id=c847ab66383cfa20a355b2679cf75f3d1faee6c4
Lots of easy to understand pictures on this site from the U.S. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/formaldehyde/home/index.html
This article also appears on Habitat Property Services’ old not-so-mobile friendly site