Issue Date: June 23, 2008
FEMA’s Formaldehyde Limits
The Government & Policy Concentrate “Formaldehyde Sets Limits” contains a misleading statement, “Formaldehyde is a preservative commonly used in construction materials” (C&EN, April 21, page 37).
Although some formaldehyde and derivatives are used in preservatives for products like paints and adhesives, far more is used to manufacture phenolic and amino resins. These are the thermoset adhesives used in plywood, wafer board, and particle board. They are also used in laminating adhesives (e.g., Formica); molding resins (e.g., Bakelite, Melmac); no-iron crease-proofing resins for textiles; binders for products like insulation batting; controlled-release binders for lawn fertilizers; and cross-linkers for baked paints used on automobiles, metal furniture, lighting fixtures, white appliances, and numerous painted container labels. Formaldehyde vapor is released during curing, but it dissipates with time.
When the problem of formaldehyde in living spaces first came to light more than 20 years ago, it was attributed to tighter construction after the energy crisis. Ventilation is often sufficient to address the problem. It is frustrating that the Federal Emergency Management Agency took so long to adopt formaldehyde specifications for its manufactured housing.
Paul E. Eckler
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