What is Formaldehyde and where is it used

(ORDO NEWS) — Formaldehyde (synonyms: methanal, formic aldehyde, methyl aldehyde; chemical formula CH2O) is a colorless gas with a pungent odor, highly soluble in water. This substance is obtained on an industrial scale by the oxidation of methanol. In the material of the article, we will discuss in more detail the sources of formaldehyde release, how long it takes to erode, the norms for the content of H2CO in the air, the effect of formaldehyde on the body, and the symptoms of carcinogen poisoning.

What is formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a chemical compound with a pungent odor that can dissolve in liquid and ignite. Formalin is a 40% aqueous solution of formaldehyde.

The chemical characteristics of the poison pose a threat to human health and life. If you drink formaldehyde in an amount of 35 to 90 mg, you can die.

The substance is obtained industrially by the oxidation of methanol. Formalin belongs to the first class of danger, as it can affect the cellular level. The poison can penetrate into the internal organs as a result of chemical interactions that have occurred, and also be formed in living organisms from other substances. Methanol is found in many household chemicals.

A person is regularly exposed to negative vapors, but a single inhalation of formalin, as a rule, does not provoke serious consequences.

The smell of formaldehyde is extremely pungent and unpleasant. However, it is practically impossible to detect poison on your own: this requires special instruments and reagents.

The smell of formalin can be characterized as specific. At the moment, pharmacy chains sell the antiseptic “Formidron”, which includes formaldehyde. Use the product carefully, avoiding inhalation of vapors.

The permissible dose of the content of the substance is up to 0.2% in cosmetics and up to 0.1% in mouth rinses. In medicines, its content should not exceed 0.5%. Products containing 5% of this compound can also be used, but are contraindicated for application to the facial area.

The maximum allowable concentration in cosmetics, in particular shampoos and bathing foams, is 0.1%, while only 1 person in 75,000 has a negative skin reaction.

As follows from the description, formalin is one of the dangerous poisons that can disrupt the functioning of internal organs and provoke the death of a person.

Scope of application

The substance is used mainly in medicine and industry. This compound is included in the composition of nail polishes, hair care products. A small dose of it is included in some cosmetic preparations as a disinfectant and preservatives, is included in creams, deodorants, shampoos, mouth rinses.

Sources of poisoning with chemical compounds are divided into several hazard classes, due to their properties. Formaldehyde belongs to strong toxins, has the ability to explode, has a negative effect on a person during internal penetration.

There are many sources of intoxication. These include:

  • gas stoves;
  • vehicle exhaust gases;
  • glue;
  • medicines;
  • household chemicals;
  • cosmetics;
  • carpets;
  • smoke of tobacco and electronic cigarettes;
  • fertilizers and others.

The maximum concentration is observed at high humidity and high temperatures.

The properties of formalin are used as a disinfectant for medical equipment and devices, for sterilizing items, treating diaper rash and skin lesions, and reducing sweating.

The use of formalin is exclusively external: inhaling and drinking the solution is extremely life-threatening. It is used for local disinfection, as a deodorant and astringent. In addition, the diluted solution is used for douching.

Most often, the substance is found in the chemical industry, in the production of paints, paper products, resins, textiles and plastics. The compound has also found its use in the woodworking industry, in the manufacture of floor coverings, in the processing of animal skins, as an antiseptic and antimicrobial agent, and also in the manufacture of yeast.

Human impact

The effect of the compound on the human body is extremely unfavorable: it can cause severe poisoning and is equivalent to arsenic intoxication. Under the influence of vapors, the brain, respiratory system, and mucous surfaces suffer. The harm of formaldehyde to humans lies in severe intoxication of internal organs. Among the most severe consequences can be noted:

  • swelling of the pulmonary system and larynx, causing difficulty in breathing, respiratory failure, which is often the cause of death;
  • kidney inflammation;
  • violation of menstruation and endocrine disorders, leading to the impossibility of conception in women;
  • difficulty urinating, leading to falling into a coma;
  • death of the mucous membranes of the stomach and esophagus;
  • internal hemorrhage.

Is formaldehyde harmful to humans? This question can definitely be answered in the affirmative.

With regular inhalation of vapors, a person may become more sensitive to poison, which ultimately leads to more serious complications.

In addition, the poison negatively affects the internal organs: the liver, kidneys, respiratory and visual systems, and is also a powerful allergen. Formalin has a carcinogenic effect on the fetus, leading to cell mutation, destroys nerve tissue and visual channels. Having penetrated into the bloodstream, it reacts with blood proteins and is synthesized into formic acid, which is difficult to excrete from the internal organs.

What is the effect of formalin on children? Babies are the most sensitive to the world around them, which is why a carcinogen can have a significant impact on their body. With continuous interaction with dangerous objects, even its small concentration can provoke serious complications. The substance may be found in children’s toys, teethers, nipples, stickers, plastic baby dolls.

Consequences of poisoning

A carcinogen can enter the human body in the following ways:

  • by inhalation;
  • orally;
  • through direct interaction with the skin.

It should be noted that the distribution throughout the body of this compound is uneven. Most intensively it settles in the following internal organs:

  • pancreas;
  • mucous surfaces of the intestinal system;
  • lymph;
  • salivary glands;
  • bone marrow.

If accidentally or deliberately ingested, people may develop:

  • severe renal failure;
  • pathology of the liver, characterized by the destruction of its cells;
  • bleeding of the mucous surfaces of the stomach;
  • necrosis of the esophagus.

Formaldehyde can irritate the respiratory organs and lead to these pathologies:

  • bronchitis;
  • lung obstruction;
  • exacerbation of bronchial asthma.

When interacting with the skin, the compound can provoke:

  • dermatitis, which often becomes chronic;
  • hives, rash;
  • destruction of nails;
  • redness and burning;
  • weeping eczema.

The substance is capable of destroying the immune system, provoking a change in the composition of the blood, reducing the levels of lymphocytes and immunoglobulin A, so everyone who wants to protect themselves from the effects of poison should know how dangerous formalin is.

Symptoms of intoxication

Formaldehyde poisoning may have some features, mainly from the side of the brain and respiratory organs. These include:

  • asthma attack;
  • coughing;
  • breathing difficulties;
  • itching and burning of the mucous surfaces of the esophagus and larynx;
  • diarrhea and vomiting with blood streaks;
  • intense thirst;
  • skin blanching;
  • mood swings;
  • prostration;
  • sleep disturbance;
  • convulsive syndrome;
  • coordination disorder;
  • headache;
  • weight loss.

In people who often come into contact with the poison, signs can manifest themselves in the form of allergic reactions, urticaria, and brittle nails. In the female, menstruation failures are observed, in men – a decrease in sexual desire.

High concentrations can lead to toxic shock, coma, and even death.

Properties of the substance and the mechanism for its production

Formaldehyde belongs to the homologous series of aliphatic aldehydes. In its normal state, it is a colorless gas with a pungent, irritating odor. Formaldehyde may contain impurities of formic acid, various polymers and methanol. In water and alcohols, the substance has good solubility. It is an aqueous solution of formaldehyde called formalin and is often used for medical purposes. 

Also, the E240 additive can polymerize, sometimes randomly, acquiring a solid form and turning into trioxane, polyformaldehyde, paraformaldehyde or tetraoxane. At a temperature of 19.2 degrees Celsius, the substance begins to boil, and at 118 degrees Celsius, it melts. 435 degrees – self-ignition temperature.

It is precisely because of the tendency to polymerization in the industrial field that it is used more often in the form of solutions – aqueous (up to 10%) or alcohol (in 10% alcohol up to 37%), or bound in compounds in the form of paraformaldehyde or hexamethylenetetramine. The latter undergo dilution and reaction with acid, as a result of which formaldehyde is released.

Industrial production of additives occurs in laboratory conditions by the oxidation of methanol or methane. The reactions take place at elevated pressure, high temperature and using catalysts.

As of 2015-2016, about 8.8 million tons of formaldehyde were produced in the world. About 38 percent of all methanol in the world is consumed for this purpose. Most of the production is in Europe and the United States of America. The leaders in this industry are Dynea, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, BASF.

Additive E240 is valued as a powerful preservative and antiseptic, capable of destroying a significant number of types of pathogenic microorganisms and their spores, thereby increasing the shelf life of products.

Formaldehyde in nature

A rather dangerous and toxic substance methanal is found in wildlife. The element is one of the components of the metabolic process, as it is associated with the exchange of tetrahydrofolic acid derivatives in the body. At the same time, in the human body, it is neutralized by oxidation, after which it is excreted by the kidneys.

In addition, methanal is also present in the atmosphere, its concentration is especially high over large cities. There are several sources of its appearance in the air:

  • photochemical reactions of methane in the layers of the atmosphere;
  • fires in cities, forests, peat bogs;
  • household and industrial dumps;
  • release of formaldehyde from materials containing it (for example, chipboard boards);
  • emissions from enterprises that work with the substance.

After rains, as well as in winter, the concentration of formaldehyde in the air naturally decreases.

In the natural environment, the substance is absorbed by methanotrophic bacteria that live in water bodies and soils.

Tobacco smoke, some types of natural wines, vegetables and fruits, beer and cognacs can also release methanal into the environment.

Additive E240 – to help a person

Back in the 20th century, a significant portion of formaldehyde was consumed by the food industry. To date, the balance has shifted towards the chemical industry: it is used for the production of various types of resins (phenol-formaldehyde, melamine-formaldehyde and others). Resins, in turn, are used as an element for the manufacture of particle boards and fibreboards, phenolic and aminoplasts, abrasives, varnishes, adhesives, coatings and primers.

Many chemicals, for example, urotropine, estriol, pentaerythritol, are also produced on the basis of methanal.

Despite strict bans, some food industry corporations still produce products with the addition of E240 in the composition, for example:

  • sausages;
  • sausages;
  • cheeses;
  • smoked meats;
  • fish and meat preserves.

In Russia, about 10 years ago, the use of E240 as a defoamer and antiseptic in the processing of sugar beet, as well as for the manufacture of yeast, was still allowed.

Formalin is a substance widely used in medicine and biology: due to the fact that the solution has the property of protein coagulation, it is used to preserve biological material, disinfect surfaces and tools.

There are drugs with formaldehyde in the following forms:

  • ointments;
  • solutions;
  • powders;
  • vaccines.

In personal hygiene products, the preservative E240 is present as a component that does not allow the development of pathogenic microflora. It can be found in shampoos, shower gels, and detergents. For the same purpose, it can be used in cosmetics, nail care products, and oral products.

Formaldehyde is used to tan gelatin to make film.

Environmental aspects of formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is one of the normal metabolites in the body associated with the metabolism of derivatives of the tetrahydrofolic acid system. However, it has long attracted the attention of hygienists, toxicologists and allergists from the standpoint of its adverse effects on organisms. Neutralization of formaldehyde in organisms is reduced to its oxidation and excretion by the kidneys in a bound and free state.

Formaldehyde can be found in large quantities in the atmosphere, especially in large cities and industrial centers.

Sources of formaldehyde in the atmosphere are:

  • photochemical reactions of transformation of methane (and possibly other hydrocarbons) in atmospheric layers;
  • forest, peat and city fires; landfills for domestic and industrial waste;
  • vehicle emissions and flue gases from power plants;
  • emissions from industrial enterprises using formaldehyde in their activities;
  • release of formaldehyde from materials containing it (wood-based panels, phenoplastics).

A significant decrease in formaldehyde in the atmosphere occurs in winter, as well as after rains.
The assimilation of formaldehyde in nature is carried out by methanotrophic bacteria, in particular methylotrophs – widespread inhabitants of various water bodies (lakes, swamps, rivers and seas) and soils.

In everyday life, formaldehyde can be released from furniture, building and finishing materials, insulation, textile materials, cosmetics and disinfectants. Formaldehyde is found in tobacco smoke, as well as in some types of vegetables, fruits and drinks (natural wines, cognacs, beer).

For example, incompletely reacted formaldehyde can be released from phenoplastics, chipboards and wood-fiber boards, as well as formaldehyde resulting from the destruction of phenol-formaldehyde resin, for example, during the operation of furniture and building structures in a wet state.

Formaldehyde emission from various materials or products is regulated by relevant international standards, for example:

  • EN 300:1997, Oriented Strand Boards (OSB) – Definitions, Classifications and Specifications
  • EN 312-1:1997, Particleboards – Specifications – Part 1: General Requirements for all Board Types
  • EN 622-5:1997, Fibreboards – Specifications – Part 5: Requirements for Dry Process Boards (MDF)
  • EN 636-1:1996, Plywood – Specifications – Part 1: Requirements for Plywood for Use in Dry Conditions
  • EN 636-2:1996, Plywood – Specifications – Part 2: Requirements for Plywood for Use in Humid Conditions
  • EN 636-3:1996, Plywood – Specifications – Part 3: Requirements for Plywood for Use in Exterior Conditions

In different countries, there are also different national standards regarding the content (emission) of formaldehyde and different methods for determining this emission. In our country, formaldehyde emission standards are set for particle boards GOST 10632-2007 “Particle boards. Specifications»

At present, the elimination of formaldehyde emissions from building materials and furniture can be achieved, for example, by replacing chipboard and fiberboard with thermoplastic wood-polymer composites, for more details see the special resource catalog on WPC

Gas analysis

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Laboratory equipment

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Application area

  • Oil industry
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  • Housing sector
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  • Building sector
  • Parking lots (car parks)
  • Agricultural industry


GOST 1625-89 Technical formalin. General specifications

Physical properties of formaldehyde and its formula

The substance, written by chemists using the formula CH2O, is a highly water-soluble, colorless gas, the inhalation of which leads to the development of asphyxiation and general poisoning, the strength of which is directly proportional to the concentration of the substance in the air or liquid that has entered the body.

The molecular weight is 30.03 g / mol, the pressure formed by the vapors of the substance is 10 mm Hg.

The substance is not able to accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals. As it decomposes, it breaks down into formic acid and carbon monoxide.

PPC Formaldehyde

The maximum allowable concentration of formaldehyde in the atmospheric mass is 0.003 mg / m3, in the air space of a closed room – 0.5 mg / m3, in rivers and other water bodies – 0.05 mg / l.

Formaldehyde emission class

  • E-0 corresponds to the European level and means that chipboard, fiberboard, laminate with such marking will not cause harm to health even with a significant increase in temperature in the room.
  • E-1 indicates that the material of the boards used to create this furniture contains 10 mg of formaldehyde for every 100 g of the weight of the base material.
  • E-2 indicates that the material contains 10–30 mg of formaldehyde for every 100 g of product.

Read about the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in our publications.
How to recognize that you have been poisoned by mercury vapor, learn here.

Brief description of the substance

Formaldehyde (methanal, formic aldehyde) is a colorless, toxic, highly soluble gas with a pungent odor, hazard class 1 in water, polar solvents and alcohols. An aqueous solution of formaldehyde stabilized with urea is used in the furniture and woodworking industries in the production of chipboard and other “plywood” materials. It is used in the manufacture of thermoplastic polymers and in industrial organic synthesis. It is widely used in light industry, medicine, cosmetology, agriculture. It is characterized by good antiseptic, bactericidal, tannic and preservative properties.

The rate of formaldehyde in the air:

  • The maximum single maximum allowable concentration (MPC) of formaldehyde (Russia) is 0.05 mg/m³;
  • The average daily MPC (Russia) is 0.01 mg/m³;
  • MPC of a substance in the air of residential premises (European countries): 120 µg/m3;
  • Odor threshold: 0.07–0.2 mg/m3;
  • The threshold of the reflex response of the animal organism: 0.04-0.098 mg/m3;
  • Threshold of irritating effect on the mucous membrane of human vision: 0.012 mg/m3.

Human danger

Formaldehyde is a major air pollutant. It accumulates in the human body and is very difficult to remove from it. The most dangerous is the long-term effect of the substance on the body, in which it has allergenic, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects. Clinical manifestations can develop in a different period of time, which largely depends on the state of immunity. For some it’s months, for others it’s years. Children, the elderly and people suffering from chronic diseases are prone to strong negative influences.

  • It has a pronounced toxicity and adversely affects the reproductive organs and genetic material. The danger as a mutagen lies in the fact that the substance not only leads to the development of somatic mutations, but also the body itself accumulates these mutations and subsequently they are transmitted to offspring.
  • Poisons the lungs, irritates the respiratory tract and makes breathing difficult. It can cause asthma and provoke asthmatic attacks.
  • Irritates the eyes and skin, provokes the development of neurotic eczema.
  • Causes the development of gastrointestinal ulcers, damage to the kidneys and liver, leads to unreasonable weight loss.
  • It has a pronounced negative effect on the central nervous system: it causes fatigue, headaches, depression, depression. It impairs performance and general well-being.

Listed as a carcinogen. An international cancer risk assessment agency has proven that formaldehyde, which is used in the production of plastics, resins, paints and varnishes, textiles, as well as a preservative and disinfectant, is associated with an increased risk of oncological neoplasms of the nasopharynx.

What concentration of formaldehyde is considered non-hazardous

For all harmful chemicals dissolved in the air and water, maximum concentrations have been developed at which the impact of formaldehyde on human health is minimal or absent. Thus, in Russia, the marginal concentration of formaldehyde in indoor air is no more than 0.010 mg/m3.

For example, if more than 0.5 mg / m3 of a harmful poison is dissolved in the air, then a person may develop a sore throat and lacrimation. In river water and other bodies of water, the maximum dose of formaldehyde is 0.05 mg/l.

Since furniture is the main source of formaldehyde emission into the air of residential premises, it has become important to study the emission (release) of formaldehyde from these products from modern cheap wood materials and bulk building materials.

From the moment of manufacture, within six months, there is an intensive release of poison, which significantly increases its concentration in the air, however, in the subsequent indefinite time, the polymer resin covering the products continues to release toxic substances. The process is especially aggravated if the room has a high percentage of humidity and is poorly ventilated.

Manufacturers are required to label finishing materials and chipboards in accordance with international requirements, depending on the content of formaldehyde in them.

  1. E-(0) – this marking indicates the safe use of materials without the risk of formaldehyde release even at high temperatures.
  2. E-(1) – indicates that the content of formaldehyde in the base substance reaches 11 mg for every 100 grams of weight
  3. E-(2) – boards with a high content of over 35 mg of formaldehyde for every 100 grams of product are marked with this sign.

This chemical is gaseous, which means that the main thing is its concentration in the air. An acceptable indicator is 0.001 mg / liter. In working rooms, the rate increases, but cannot be higher than 0.005 mg / liter of air.

Formaldehyde has a negative effect on the body; when poisoned, it causes a headache and other obvious symptoms.

In the presence of such indicators, human health is not irreparably harmed, but over time, he may feel mild symptoms of poisoning. The possibility of developing cancer is also increasing.


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