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National Research Council (US) Committee on Toxicology. Formaldehyde - An Assessment of Its Health Effects. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1980.

Cover of Formaldehyde - An Assessment of Its Health Effects

Formaldehyde - An Assessment of Its Health Effects.

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Formaldehyde is irritating to the eyes and upper respiratory tract of laboratory animals. When given orally, it is moderately toxic and causes severe erosion of gastrointestinal tissue. It is a known skin irritant and, through repeated contact with dilute solutions, can produce allergic sensitization.

Concentrations of 0.3–50 ppm increased airway resistance and decreased lung compliance after 1 h of exposure. Exposure of mice at 1 and 3 ppm produced a decrease in respiratory rate. Interim results of a chronic inhalation study have shown squamous cell carcinomas in the nasomaxillary epithelium of rats exposed at 15 ppm, 6 h/d, 5 d/wk for 18 mo. There is no published evidence that formaldehyde is carcinogenic in animals.

Formaldehyde, either itself or as HMT, does not appear to interfere with reproduction, nor is there evidence of malformations in offspring of exposed parents. It has been shown to be mutagenic in several normammalian systems, particularly microorganisms and insects, but standard screens, such as the Ames test and Chinesee hamster ovary cell/HGPRT assay, have shown no evidence of mutagenicity.

Results of animal studies are summarized in Tables 1 and 2.


People may be exposed to formaldehyde in industry and in the outdoor-ambient and indoor-residential environments. Automotive exhaust, smog, cigarette smoke, incinerators, and decomposition of formaldehyde-derived products are sources of indoor and outdoor exposure. Numerous consumer complaints have been associated with urea-formaldehyde products in the domestic environment. Eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems are the predominant symptoms associated with exposure to formaldehyde. Skin irritation and allergic dermatitis have also resulted from exposure, and experiments have shown that individuals can become sensitized.

Results of human studies can be found in Tables 3, 4, and 5.

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK217654


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