How to minimize risks associated with formaldehyde exposure:
1. Establish a no smoking policy in your home.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products should not be used inside the home. There are many toxic effects of exposure to cigarette smoke, including exposure to formaldehyde, and evidence continues to mount concerning the health effects associated with cigarette smoke.
2. Clean chimneys and wood burning appliances.
Make sure fireplaces and wood stoves are in good working condition to prevent smoke from getting into your living environment. Burn only well-seasoned firewood, and keep your chimney clean and clear of obstructions.
3. Keep idling gas engines away from the home.
Engine exhaust contains a number of toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde. If your home has an adjacent carport or garage, be sure the door is well sealed to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the home. Do not idle cars or other gas powered equipment, such as weed-eaters, leaf blowers, lawnmowers or snow plows, in attached garages or near open doors or windows. Pay attention to wind direction when using gas-powered machines around the home, especially during summer when windows are more likely to be open.
4. Buy solid wood furniture, or be sure pressed wood products are sealed.
To keep emissions low from pressed wood furniture or cabinets, purchase items with a plastic laminate or coating on all sides. For some building and household products, there are low-formaldehyde options, such as U.L.E.F. (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde), N.A.F. (no added formaldehyde) or C.A.R.B. (California Air Resources Board) Phase 1 or Phase 2 compliant.
Solid wood furniture contains no formaldehyde, and although more expensive than furniture made using particle board, solid wood furniture will usually last longer than furniture made using glues. Thrift shops and flea markets are good places to find used wood furniture at affordable prices.
5. Increase ventilation during painting projects. Use low-VOC paints.
Ensure there is adequate ventilation during all home painting or varnishing projects, or when installing wall-to-wall carpets using glues or adhesives. Low-VOC and Zero-VOC paints are now readily available at most paint stores, and these paints have the same or higher quality standards of conventional paints.
6. Let new furnishings “off-gas” before bringing indoors.
Allow products that contain formaldehyde to “air out” before bringing them into your home. Open all product packing to expose the products to air as much as possible.
7. Ventilate your home regularly.
Formaldehyde concentrations are higher indoors than they are outdoors, so you can decrease indoor formaldehyde levels by letting in fresh air. Also, high relative humidity increases formaldehyde emissions, so you can use a dehumidifier to reduce relative humidity to recommended levels of 50% in summer and 30% in winter.
The Report on Carcinogens notes that, although workers in manufacturing plants are more exposed to formaldehyde, and thus have higher associated risks, consumers should still avoid contact with formaldehyde where possible.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that formaldehyde is both worrisome and inescapable. “It’s the smell in new houses, and it’s in cosmetics like nail polish,” he said. “All a reasonable person can do is manage their exposure and decrease it to as little as possible. It’s everywhere.”