When most of us hear the word formaldehyde, it conjures up old memories of preserved animals in high school biology classes or the first time we attended an open-casket funeral, but this toxic chemical used for embalming is actually all around us every day. It is in building materials, household cleaners, that cute outfit you just bought, cosmetics and cigarette smoke. It is even in some foods.
This pollutant is produced naturally in the environment by humans, animals and plants, and it breaks down pretty quickly when introduced to air, but its use in manufacturing processes and consumer products leads to increased exposure and the potential for health complications. Excess formaldehyde exposure through inhalation most often leads to irritation of the upper respiratory tract and can lead to nose, throat and lung damage. Animal studies show that exposure can also lead to birth defects, learning impairments and stomach damage, and some human studies show an increased risk for cancers of the nose and throat. There is also some evidence that exposure through inhalation can lead to asthma or asthma-like symptoms in children and those who work in industries where formaldehyde in commonly used.
The presence of formaldehyde in our everyday lives is so prevalent that it cannot be avoided completely, and – as it seems to be with most toxic substances – government agencies assert that low levels of exposure do not cause significant health risks. However, health-conscious consumers know that these agencies also say genetically modified organisms and bisphenol-A (BPA) are safe, so sometimes we have to do our own research and take our health into our own hands. The results of the limited studies currently available on the effects of formaldehyde exposure certainly seem to make avoiding formaldehyde look like a pretty good idea.
Here are five ways you can limit your family’s exposure to formaldehyde:
1. Use all-natural, homemade cleaning products, such as vinegar and baking soda.
2. Avoid cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke.
3. Make sure your home and RV are properly ventilated.
4. Wash new clothes before wearing them.
5. Switch to organic or all-natural cosmetics and personal care products.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this pollutant can be found in everything from carpet and fertilizers to manufactured wood products and preserved foods, so avoiding it will not be an easy task. However, every step you take to limit your exposure is well worth the effort.