Formaldehyde -- Facts Versus Rhetoric.
The Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) has noted that recent media reports concerning formaldehyde vapor in emergency housing provided to Gulf Coast hurricane victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have tended to omit important facts concerning that substance and its impact on human health that are revealed by numerous scientific and medical studies. The public, consumers and decision-makers at all levels of government should have access to these facts in order to fairly and properly assess the use of formaldehyde-emitting materials, which are present in building products (such as plywood, particleboard, cabinets and carpeting) used in virtually all residential construction in the United States.
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It is present in every cell of the human body and in the atmosphere. All living organisms rely on formaldehyde as a building block for the synthesis of more complex molecules. Because of its importance in such metabolic processes, formaldehyde is naturally present in the human body, with concentrations of approximately 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in the blood.
The fact that formaldehyde is a normal component of human metabolism has continually been ignored in congressional proceedings, press reports and even in communications by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other federal agencies. Because formaldehyde, like alcohol, has a tendency to evaporate from the bloodstream into exhaled breath, there are measurable amounts of formaldehyde in human breath at all times. These levels are the result of the normal amounts of formaldehyde present in the blood rather than external exposure. In the same way, then, that alcohol contained in the breath is a reliable indicator of blood alcohol levels (i.e., the basis for the commonly used "breathalyzer" test), the same is the case with formaldehyde. In a 2005 study (Berthold Moser, et al., published in Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, Vol. 145, Issues 2-3, February 2005), researchers measured the amount of formaldehyde in the breath of 344 healthy men and women. The results of this study are significant since it is now being claimed that formaldehyde concentrations equivalent to normal levels emitted in human breath are capable of producing adverse effects. In the Moser study, the median level of formaldehyde in human breath was 4.3 parts per billion (ppb) with levels of 6.3 ppb, 40 ppb and 73 ppb of the 75th, 97.5th and maximum percentiles, respectively. Given this data, it is troubling that CDC has recently advocated quickly relocating residents from FEMA emergency manufactured homes that have tested formaldehyde levels below that which many people naturally exhale as a result of their own metabolism.
Formaldehyde levels in manufactured homes have been regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under specific product-based standards (0.2 ppm for plywood and 0.3 ppm for particleboard) for nearly 25 years. In that time, by its own acknowledgment, HUD has received very few formaldehyde-related complaints from the millions of residents of HUD-labeled manufactured homes across the United States. The successful long-term track record of these HUD standards and the manufactured homes produced in compliance with the standards, together with the available but under-reported scientific data in this area, should caution against any rush to judgment on this matter.
The Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform is a Washington, D.C.-based national trade association representing the views and interests of producers of federally regulated manufactured housing.
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|Date:||Apr 4, 2008|
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