The everyday danger of formaldehyde
On 6th September, the APPG on Air Pollution held a meeting on the subject of Indoor Air Pollution. At the meeting, the Group heard an impassioned statement from a member of the public about their personal experience of formaldehyde contamination in their home. The full statement can be read below:
‘My husband & I hope that the APPG on Air Pollution will lead to a situation where the health & safety of residents is as strongly protected as that of workers under the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – whose air quality standards is protected. We’d like to tell you what happened to us.
Last year we had luxury bedroom cabinets fitted which caused air pollution in our bedroom to exceed 13 x World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for Formaldehyde, 18 x UK Building Regulations for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and 5 x WHO limits for Styrene. This was no one-off accident by our supplier. They told us that fumes which caused eye stinging were quite normal in their 20 year experience of making cabinets.
Experts said the problem would not necessarily go away with time. BRE (the former government Building Research Establishment) said that chemical reactions between different components of our cabinets -(MDF, glues, lacquer, paint, filler etc…) could cause formaldehyde emissions to be continuously produced for years.
We reported our case to Trading Standards who, we hoped, would stop the company doing similar work in our community; which at the time they were doing. But Trading Standards did not act for more than a year and we do not think they can stop these indoor poisonings. They have told us that the best outcome we can hope for is a promise by the company never to do it again. But how will consumers know if they do?
We have researched this issue thoroughly, particularly that of formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products like MDF (which cause cancer according to the WHO & the International agency for Research on Cancer, IARC) with the support of our MP Ruth Cadbury. We feel the only answer is to regulate so that only MDF which emits ZERO formaldehyde can be used in homes.
Formaldehyde is a silent killer. Except at extremely high levels it is indistinguishable from the smell of fresh paint. Whereas carbon monoxide poisoning or house dust mites cause immediate symptoms, the cancers formaldehyde causes may take years to develop.
We were able to afford to pay for the BRE’s gold standard air quality tests and as a result had our expensive new bedroom ripped out two weeks after installation. More than a year on we are still trying to get our money back from the supplier.
None of this would have happened if only zero-emitting MDF was allowed to be used in our home.
We very much hope that members of this Indoor Air Quality panel will consider our case in their future deliberations on this issue and perhaps even assist us in bringing our case to the attention of the National Institutes for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which is currently developing its ‘Indoor Air Quality at Home’ guidelines.’
The APPG on Air Pollution is sponsored by Airtopia
Airtopia provides affordable domestic air quality tests to help people breathe easy in healthier homes.