Formaldehyde in Homes: Not Just in FEMA Katrina Trailers

Tom Lent | December 16, 2009

This blog post, originally shared in the Pharos Signal, includes information about parts of Pharos that are no longer available. Please use it for historical reference and for the other useful information it contains.

It turns out that occupants of the infamous FEMA Katrina trailers are not the only ones at risk from formaldehyde. A recent report on formaldehyde in new homes from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) found that nearly all of the 108 homes they studied had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation and significant numbers of the homes exceeded guidelines on other VOCs as well. This came as no surprise to us at HBN. Our research in the past has observed that the low ventilation rates in homes made current VOC standards inadequate to protect health and would likely lead to unsafe levels of formaldehyde and other VOC in homes.

The news of high home formaldehyde levels followed close on the heels of news that yet another official board - the expert panel for the US National Toxicology Program - unanimously voted last month to designate formaldehyde a known human carcinogen echoing the International Agency for Research on Cancer's earlier designation.

The good news is that CARB's new regulations for composite wood will help this situation by lowering allowable emissions of formaldehyde from many particle board and plywood products and a Senate committee reported out a bill last week that would make the California regulations national.

The reality remains, however, that regulations always follow in the wake of overwhelming science and best practices. In fact, they often finish a distant third in the race to protect public health. These regulations will only reduce formaldehyde exposures from a limited number of products leaving fiberglass batt insulation and other products still emitting this potent carcinogen.

Rather than wait for regulations to catch up, the best practice is to use Pharos now to specify products that are made without added formaldehyde. That's a decision that will place you much further along the path towards health, and let you breathe a little easier while you wait for regulations to catch up.