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Just as some homeowners are moving into their brand-new homes, they have been advised by homebuilders and legal counsel to evacuate due to potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde found in construction materials. For a recent report, see CBS News.

Tom Koch, CIH MSEPM, VERTEX VP of Industrial Hygiene & EHS Services, has been busy scheduling Air Quality tests in Denver-area homes since the news broke, and expects the requests to keep coming in. “Homeowners, HOAs, builders, and installers are contacting us to test for formaldehyde levels in homes” Koch explains, “people are concerned and at the same time, not really sure what they’re dealing with.”

Here’s what you need to know about Formaldehyde in building materials:

Formaldehyde is dangerous at certain levels

Short term exposures to high levels of formaldehyde can be fatal at airborne concentrations of 100 parts per million (ppm), or 0.01%, in air. 3 to 5 ppm in air causes irritation in eyes, nose, throat, and skin, and can be intolerable to some people. How many ppm were discovered in this situation?
“Tests have shown up at 10 times the OSHA allowable limit- 3 to 8 parts per million in basements of homes built with specific composite wood products,” Koch reports. While not a fatal level of formaldehyde in the air, certainly cause for major concern.

Formaldehyde can have long term effects

While short term effects like eyes, nose, throat, and skin irritation or most common, long term exposure to formaldehyde can cause cancer of the nose, throat, and sinuses. “Inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, and eye contact are all exposure routes that should be prevented at all times.”

Air quality testing for formaldehyde levels is really straightforward

“Air sampling is a fairly simple, non-invasive process. It takes 8 hours to collect a sample and we always have the testing materials on hand.” Passive exposure badges are used in air monitoring to determine airborne concentrations of formaldehyde. “The VERTEX Environmental team is more than equipped to conduct these tests. We’re all hoping to help in this situation.”

What to do

Get your home tested. If you have any suspicion your home may be affected, please contact a qualified and experienced Industrial Hygienist. And if the test comes back with higher than normal formaldehyde levels?

“When elevated levels of formaldehyde are found in a home, it is often necessary to evacuate the home until off-gassing reduces formaldehyde concentrations to zero- which can take weeks or months, depending on the products installed.”

Exposure control areas should be clearly marked when the amount of formaldehyde in the air exceeds the permissible exposure limits to prevent access from unprotected contractors and homeowners. Koch advises avoiding these ‘regulated areas,’ not just for your health and safety, but for the safety of the teams working in the home.

VERTEX can help

Contact Tom Koch to schedule an air quality test, or check out the American Industrial Hygiene Association to find a Certified Industrial Hygienist in your area.

For more information, check out these helpful links:
VERTEX Industrial Hygiene & Building Sciences Services
OSHA Standards
OSHA Formaldehyde Fact Sheet
Manufacturer Press Release

Author

Thomas Koch, CIH MSEPM

VP, Industrial Hygiene & EHS Services