Inhalation exposure to formaldehyde: an overview of its toxicology, epidemiology, monitoring, and control.
The toxicology, epidemiology, monitoring, and control of formaldehyde (50000) are reviewed. Formaldehyde's effects include irritation, immunologically mediated sensitization, and mutagenicity or carcinogenicity. Characteristic symptoms of formaldehyde gas are experienced by 30 to 50 percent of individuals exposed to 0.5 to 1.5 parts per million (ppm), which is below the OSHA standard of 3ppm. It is recommended that individuals with acute formaldehyde symptoms in the home or workplace seek medical exposure and that newly detected sources be examined by a qualified expert. When individuals with chronic diseases, possibly associated with formaldehyde, seek medical attention, evaluation of the etiological relationship requires a detailed history and possibly epidemiologic assessment. When no adverse acute symptoms have been recognized but individuals are concerned about the concentration and duration of potential inhalation of formaldehyde, an evaluation of the environment may be appropriate. Although there are no mandatory nonoccupational exposure standards for formaldehyde, when elevated exposures to formaldehyde gas have been documented and when symptoms have been observed, exposures should be reduced as much as possible by using control measures. Control measures include eliminating the source, sealing or enclosing the source, using ventilation, limiting access or exposure time, using protective equipment, and educating potentially exposed individuals. Reconsideration of the evaluation criteria for safe inhalation exposure to formaldehyde gas would be appropriate in view of recent data regarding its potential for effects below the current occupational standard. Specific responsibility for research, standard setting, and enforcement of health based criteria for indoor air quality and climate needs to be assigned, since urban dwellers spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors, where the health impact, concentrations, and control of exposure to various contaminants have not been adequately evaluated.