Formaldehyde, a hazardous substance often encountered
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that is used on an industrial scale to make glues used to glue fibreboards, among other things. It is also used in laboratories to preserve tissues and organs and as a preservative in cosmetic products. In its simplest form, formaldehyde is a colourless irritant gas, but it can also be dissolved in water, present in vapour form or occur as a solid.
Inhaling formaldehyde causes nasal and throat cancer and is associated with an increased risk of leukaemia. The World Health Organisation recommends a limit of 100 micrograms of formaldehyde per cubic metre in indoor air, which was adopted in the Flemish Indoor Environment Decree for public spaces. In addition, Belgium imposes an absolute limit of 380 micrograms per cubic metre in the workplace.
Formaldehyde is surprisingly common in workplace atmospheres: building materials, furniture and carpets containing formaldehyde adhesives continue to emit formaldehyde for years. Increased temperature and humidity amplify this formaldehyde emission.
Another important source is the breakdown of volatile compounds (VOC) by ozone, especially fragrances, whereby formaldehyde is formed. Ozone concentration is also affected by humidity and temperature. The presence of electronics (e.g. computers or printers that produce ozone) and/or scented products is definitely a risk to be looked into more closely!