Formalde-what?

You may think of formaldehyde as a chemical only found in chemistry and biology lab settings. The truth is it’s everywhere, especially in homes where building products may have formaldehyde in levels exceeding safety standards. Name-brand laminate flooring products, for example, are now being scrutinized for non-compliance with formaldehyde emissions standards—by a wide margin in many cases.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 helped ignite the public debate over formaldehyde, after the deadly storm destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes along the Gulf of Mexico, forcing families into temporary trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The displaced storm victims quickly began reporting respiratory problems, burning eyes and other issues, and tests then confirmed high levels of formaldehyde fumes leaking into the air from inside the trailers, which in many cases had been hastily constructed.

Public health advocates petitioned the E.P.A. to issue limits on formaldehyde in building materials and furniture used in homes, given that limits already existed for exposure in workplaces. But three years after the storm, only California had issued such limits. OSHA has standards in place (29 CFR 1910.1048), which deal with formaldehyde in the workplace. According to this standard “the employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) as an 8-hour TWA”. Additionally, “the employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds two parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (2 ppm) as a 15-minute STEL.”

According to this regulation, each employer who has a workplace covered by this standard shall monitor employees to determine their exposure to formaldehyde. Although this rule has been in place for some time now there have not been many reasonable priced meters available for measuring this toxic gas. Sper Scientific now offers two economical formaldehyde meters: 800052 & 800053.  These meters display HCHO levels on a backlit LCD. They also read RH (relative humidity) and temperature in °F or °C which can be adjusted to any standard. Recall the maximum and minimum HCHO readings and have user selectable audible & visible alarms for maximum HCHO level. Additionally, they automatically calculate 8 hour time-weighted average (TWA), 1-hour average, and 15 minute short-term exposure limit (STEL).

Leave a comment