Dr-Fix-It! Notebook Archive:
Formaldehyde - A Prediction. . .
Like the first raindrop in a storm that will soon become a hurricane, a June 17th news release by the Australian Associated Press will probably go largely unnoticed by the general public but will herald major changes in the future of the construction industry.
The AAP reported in 'The Age' that an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) has ruled that formaldehyde is a carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said there was finally sufficient scientific evidence to show that formaldehyde causes cancer of the nose and mouth.
As children, we probably first became aware of formaldehyde in biology class. The chemical has been used for centuries as an embalming fluid to preserve animals, perishable tissue samples and even deceased humans. The characteristic odor of formaldehyde is one that students seldom forget.
So what if an embalming fluid is shown to cause cancer? Well, it is not just an embalming fluid, anymore! Formaldehyde has become a cornerstone in the modern construction industry because hundreds of manufactured wood products use formaldehyde-based resins as bonding agents. For instance, Oriented Strand Board (OSB), Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), PLYWOOD and numerous cabinet laminates are all bonded together with resins made with formaldehyde.
The problem is that formaldehyde vapors "off-gas" from the manufactured wood product for years after its manufacture. That is why I predict formaldehyde will soon become a very big problem.
Producers of manufactured wood products will soon need to stop using formaldehyde-based resin bonding agents. Simply said, selling a product which gives off a vapor which is known to be a carcinogen is corporate suicide. They aren't that stupid. To be sure, they are scrambling to formulate a substitute bonding agent that does not contain formaldehyde. I predict the first one to get a 'no-formaldehyde' product to market will 'score'!
Now that formaldehyde vapors are scientifically linked to cancer, it is only a matter of time before somebody proves in a court of law that their cancer was caused by formaldehyde vapors which they inhaled as a direct result of occupying a room where manufactured wood products were installed. With that, we can expect "formaldehyde abatement services", "formaldehyde location services" and litigation, litigation, litigation along the lines of asbestos abatement. For years to come, men in white paper cover-alls will be ripping plywood out of our schools and disposing it in certified landfills.
Who can predict the future? There is an old joke; "Did you ever wonder why you have never seen the headline: 'Clairvoyant Wins Lottery' ?". But, if you believe my predictions, there is no time like the present for an operator of a commercial building to get ready. I predict, eventually, formaldehyde regulations will require the same kind of resources, vigilance and awareness that was necessary to comply with the laws when asbestos and chlorinated hydrocarbons were first banned.
But, for right now, you could start simply with a just little 'heads-up' action. For instance, make sure your MSDS book has Material Safety Data Sheets on the bonding agents and glues used in all the wood products installed in your building. Make sure your HVAC system has adequate fresh air as well as exhaust. Monitor inside air pollution levels but also monitor the same air pollution levels outside the building. Take any person seriously who complains about the odors given off by their paneling or their furniture!
Finally, I predict formaldehyde regulations will ultimately cost the taxpayers billions of dollars, make a few people very rich and be largely ineffective.
"Thats amazing, Holmes! How on earth did you deduce that?"
"Elementary, my dear Watson."