Formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen by a number of authoritative sources. Inhalation of formaldehyde is associated with cancer in the respiratory tract in humans and laboratory animals. Oral exposures in animals are also carcinogenic. Formaldehyde is a skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant and sensitizer.

Children are uniquely susceptible to certain environmental toxicants. Infants, toddlers, and children are disproportionately affected due to their size (smaller body frames/systems), proximity to the toxicant (crawling infants and toddlers have increased exposure to toxicants on the floor), and their bodies are still developing.  Crawling or playing on the floor or ground may bring them closer to the hazard.

How does formaldehyde get into the body?

We’re routinely exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde through the air we breathe and the products that surround us.

Formaldehyde is used in the production of resins which are commonly used as adhesives and binders in wood products, pulp and paper, and in the production of plastics and coatings. It is also used in the finishing treatment of fabrics used in clothing and other products. Aqueous formaldehyde (formalin) is used as a preservative and antimicrobial agent in some soaps, shampoos, hair preparations, deodorants, lotions, cosmetics and nail products. Some of these may be marketed to children. Formaldehyde has been detected in a wide range of children’s’ products including feeding pillows, nursing pillows, glitter glues, infant mittens, infant jackets, disposable diapers, bed linens, children’s tents, and glue sticks.

Health Effects Associated with Formaldehyde Exposure:

  • Very low levels of formaldehyde, as seen with off-gassing from certain building materials or new furnishings made with pressed wood, can irritate and burn the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
  • Those with asthma may have exacerbation of symptoms when exposed to formaldehyde.
  • High levels of formaldehyde, as seen in certain occupational settings where adolescent or young adult workers may be exposed, can cause airway inflammation and irritation after exposures of days to weeks.
  • In females, exposure may be associated with menstrual disorders.
  • Formaldehyde has been identified as a probable human carcinogen based on studies of workplace exposure. Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can elevate the risk of getting cancer.

Should children be tested if there is an exposure concern?

It is not recommended to test children’s blood or urine for levels of formaldehyde or associated breakdown products because the test result is not a good measure of exposure. These levels can vary highly from person to person, and the results of these tests do not have clinical significance. Test results will not be helpful in predicting the most important interventions for reducing/stopping the health effects of exposure, and treating symptomatically (for example, treating asthma symptoms).

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DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only. This post may not cover all possible drug interactions or all FDA / WHO warnings or alerts. Please check with a physician if you have health questions or concerns about interactions or go to the FDA / WHO for a comprehensive list of  warnings. Although we attempt to provide accurate and up-to-date information, no guarantee is made to that effect.

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