If inhaled in very small doses over a long time, formaldehyde can cause degenerative diseases. But reducing the quantity present in our homes is possible just by taking some small precautions

Is it possible to “eliminate” formaldehyde?

Last week we dealt with the dynamics of indoor formaldehyde pollution by describing its main sources, researching the Italian laws that can limit it and listing the possible solutions to “eliminate” it from our homes.

Today we only quote the term “eliminate it” because it is practically impossible to eradicate formaldehyde from our domestic environments: it would be like trying to breathe less carbon dioxide indoor than what is normally found outside.

Remember that the internal pollution concentration is always higher than the external one or, at the very best, the same (except for very particular cases that do not include the residential sector).

In general, it is possible to set an average formaldehyde value for Italy, traceable in a residential indoor environment, of 30 μg/m3. This value contrasts with an outdoor concentration of about one fifth, that is 6 μg/m3. This data allows us to understand very well that the minimum level of formaldehyde found in Italy in the home can never reach zero, and can hardly be less than 6 μg/m3.

The toxicity of formaldehyde is known, but we must make it clear that for the same substance there can be very different consequences on the body depending on whether large quantities are absorbed over a short period, or small doses over a long period. In the second case, often the consequences are far worse than in the first.

The other factor to understand is that there is not always a direct relationship between cause and effect for a single substance, rather it is necessary to interpret the phenomenon as the synergistic action of several pollutants which, statistically, can increase the risk of developing an illness.

The effects of formaldehyde

Formaldehyde can be absorbed by the body by inhalation. If absorbed in large doses for a short time it is severely irritating to the eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory tract; it can cause copious watering, blurred vision, redness, cough, headache and labored breathing.

The same substance, absorbed in very small doses over an entire lifetime, can instead induce far more serious degenerative diseases. The chronic effects of continuous exposure to formaldehyde (even at low doses) were summarised in 2004 by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), which included this substance in its Group 1 “Carcinogenic agents to humans”. The minimum toxicological limit or Lowest Concentration of Interest (LCI), the threshold below which formaldehyde does not cause consequences for the human body even if absorbed for very long periods, is 10 μg/m3.

Advice and useful tools to improve indoor air quality

As we already stated in the article of last week, we can adopt several different solutions to improve our indoor air quality and reduce the amount of formaldehyde inside our homes.

The definitive solution, however, is to use new generation devices that use new technologies to decompose and therefore eliminate formaldehyde. Among these, is Non-Thermal Plasma (NTP) technology.

Architect Leopoldo Busa,
Indoor air quality expert