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Formaldehyde

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > APPENDIX B: Common chemicals and materials > Formaldehyde


Formaldehyde is a gas with a very suffocating smell. It often comes as a liquid mixture of formaldehyde, water, and methanol called "formalin." For more information about methanol, see Alcohol solvents.

Formaldehyde is used in the electronics, shoe, and garment industries. It is used to keep fabric from wrinkling. It is also commonly used in plastics, glues, and coatings to make them stronger.

Formaldehyde is extremely flammable! It also reacts strongly with acids. Keep formaldehyde away from acids, other chemicals, and heat. See the Index of chemical names to find alternative names for formaldehyde.

Prevent or reduce exposure:

  • Use ventilation systems that extract fumes and replace or dilute dirty air with clean air (see Chapter 17: Ventilation).
  • Enclose operations whenever possible.
  • Do not mix or pour formaldehyde by hand.
  • Use gloves when handling formaldehyde. Wear correct respirators that fit you. All protective clothing should be clean, available each day, put on before work, and never taken home with you (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).
  • Have an emergency plan that includes first aid treatment and protective equipment for spills, splashes, and exposures. Keep necessary emergency supplies at the work site well stocked and accessible to workers.
  • Work areas where formaldehyde is used, stored, and mixed need to be controlled for heat and monitored for concentration of fumes and vapors. The areas should also have alarms, fire extinguishers, and a fire emergency plan (see Chapter 11: Fire).


Formaldehyde

banned

Formaldehyde (formalin, methyl aldehyde, methylene oxide) CAS No. 50-0-0

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

Known to cause cancer


WHAT IS IT?
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that has a very strong, sharp smell. The smell is so strong that it is difficult to breathe. It often comes mixed with water and methanol. If you can smell it strongly in the air, you are exposed to a dose high enough to harm you.
DO YOU WORK WITH IT?
Formaldehyde is used in garment factories in dyes, fabric treatments, and pressing. It is used in shoe factories in plastic production and glues. It is used in electronics in coatings of circuit boards.
WHEN IT COMES IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

It irritates your skin. You may develop a skin rash, redness, dryness, and pain. Your skin might start peeling, itching, and cracking. See First Aid.

EYES

It severely irritates and burns your eyes. It may cause watery and red eyes, pain, and blurred vision. Direct contact with a large enough amount may cause blindness. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

It irritates your nose, throat, and lungs, causing sore throat, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. It can create buildup of fluid in the lungs, called lung edema. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY

If it gets into your mouth and belly, it can cause severe pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, and can be fatal. See First Aid and seek medical attention.

WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:
Formaldehyde damages your lungs and can cause bronchitis. It can irritate your throat and lungs and cause chronic asthma. It may damage a baby inside the womb, may cause miscarriages and may reduce fertility in women. It can cause blood cancer and cancers of the nose and throat.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use natural or butyl rubber, nitrile or neoprene gloves, an apron, and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator with filter specific to formaldehyde.
SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Silicone-based fabric finishing treatments for pressing are considered a safer alternative to formaldehyde.



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