Because industrially produced formaldehyde is used mainly as an intermediate, consumers rarely come into direct contact with formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is used in many applications in full compliance with specific European regulations to ensure consumers benefit from the properties of formaldehyde in a safe and comfortable way.
Consumers may be exposed to trace amounts of formaldehyde in indoor air. A recent study by Salthammer et al estimates that 10-50% of the formaldehyde found in indoor air comes from organic uses such as candles, incense, cooking, gas heaters, cigarette smoke or natural wood itself. The rest stems from emissions from materials produced from formaldehyde like resins, or glues.
Because formaldehyde-based resins are used in many construction and decorative products, these products can also emit very low levels of formaldehyde into the indoor air. Industry innovation has led to a steady decrease in formaldehyde indoor air levels over the last 40 years, to levels that are often so low, they are difficult to detect.
A study by the World Health Organisation proposed an indoor air quality guideline of 0.1 mg/m³. The average levels of formaldehyde in homes are already well below the recommended guidelines. Indeed, instances where formaldehyde levels exceed the WHO recommended indoor guidelines are extremely rare. The WHO 2010 guidelines for formaldehyde also concluded that formaldehyde does not present a greater risk to vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.
Prof. Tunga Salthammer – A critical review of indoor formaldehyde concentrations and guideline values
Prof. Gunnar Nielsen – WHO (2010) Guideline value on formaldehyde and recent scientific studies
Wood naturally emits formaldehyde therefore it is not possible to achieve zero formaldehyde emissions from wood and wood-based products.
Through technical progress and innovation, the wood panel industry has, however, developed a voluntary European standard (E1) based on the WHO recommendation for indoor air levels of formaldehyde.
Although wood products still emit formaldehyde, the E1 label ensures that these products remain significantly below the WHO guideline, and thus allow consumers to safely benefit from all the properties of formaldehyde-based wood products.
The voluntary efforts of the wood panel industry have helped lower the concentration of formaldehyde in resins from around 100 mg/100g of panels in 1975, to less than 8mg/100g nowadays; that is from 0.1% to 0.008%.
Formaldehyde as an aqueous solution is a very effective disinfectant that can kill bacteria and fungi.
Also, because of this beneficial property, formaldehyde is sometimes used in certain vaccines and other healthcare applications such as in anti-infective drugs and in gel capsules to promote maximum absorption. In vaccines where the product is injected into the body, the amounts of formaldehyde are too low to affect the levels that naturally occur in the body. The development and use of vaccines is governed by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).
EU-wide legislation strictly regulates the use of chemical substances in cosmetics to guarantee consumer safety via the Cosmetics Directive (76/768). Under this directive, formaldehyde is listed as a safe substance that can be used as an ingredient for cosmetics at a maximum level of 0.2%. All finished products containing formaldehyde or substances which release formaldehyde must be labelled with the warning “contains formaldehyde” where the concentration of formaldehyde in the finished product exceeds 0.05%. Formacare condemns the manufacture or use of any cosmetics product that does not comply with EU law.