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Formaldehyde's Impact on Indoor Air Quality
Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely by industry to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and outdoors.
Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.
Where formaldehyde is found
Formaldehyde is found in:
Resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products (i.e., hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard)
Building materials and insulation
Household products such as glues, permanent press fabrics, paints and coatings, lacquers and finishes, and paper products
Preservatives used in some medicines, cosmetics and other consumer products such as dishwashing liquids and fabric softeners
Fertilizers and pesticides
It is a byproduct of combustion and certain other natural processes, and so is also found in:
Emissions from un-vented, fuel burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters.
How you can be exposed to formaldehyde
The primary way you can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde. Everyone is exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde in the air that has off-gassed from products, including composite wood products.
Resources and Guidance Materials, with Translations, for the Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Rule.
The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, signed into law July 7, 2010, by
President Obama, added Title VI to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law established
limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products: hardwood plywood, mediumdensity
fiberboard, and particleboard. The national emissions standards in the law are designed to
reduce exposures to formaldehyde, avoid harmful health effects and mirror standards previously
established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for products sold, offered for sale,
supplied, used or manufactured for sale in California. Congress tasked the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) with developing regulations to implement this Act.
Specifically, this rule will:
Limit formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that are sold, manufactured, or
imported in the United States.
Require labelling these wood products as TSCA Title VI compliant one year after the rule is
Set testing requirements to ensure that products comply with those standards.
Establish a third-party certification program to ensure that composite wood panel producers
comply with the new emissions limits.
Level the playing field for domestic manufacturers who have a high rate of compliance with the
Ensure that products outside of California will meet the new standard and thus, not emit
dangerous amounts of formaldehyde.
Include exemptions from some testing and recordkeeping requirements for products made with
ultra low-emitting and no-added formaldehyde resins.
What are composite wood products and what types are covered by this rule?
Composite wood products are created by binding strands, particles, fibers, veneers, or boards of
wood together with adhesives (i.e., glues) and include hardwood plywood, medium-density
fiberboard, and particleboard. Formaldehyde is found in the adhesives used in a wide range of
composite wood products.
Composite wood products are commonly used in the manufacture of furniture, kitchen cabinets,
flooring, picture frames and wooden children’s toys, among other products
Indoor Air Quality Concerns
All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day-to-day lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes, engaging in recreational activities and being exposed to environmental pollutants all pose varying degrees of risk. Some risks are simply unavoidable. Some we choose to accept because to do otherwise would restrict our ability to lead our lives the way we want. And some are risks we might decide to avoid if we had the opportunity to make informed choices. Indoor air pollution is one risk that you can do something about.
In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.
In addition, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
Why a Booklet on Indoor Air?
While pollutant levels from individual sources may not pose a significant health risk by themselves, most homes have more than one source that contributes to indoor air pollution. There can be a serious risk from the cumulative effects of these sources. Fortunately, there are steps that most people can take both to reduce the risk from existing sources and to prevent new problems from occurring. This booklet was prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to help you decide whether to take actions that can reduce the level of indoor air pollution in your own home.
Because so many Americans spend a lot of time in offices with mechanical heating, cooling and ventilation systems, there is also a short section on the causes of poor air quality in offices and what you can do if you suspect that your office may have a problem. A glossary and a list of organizations where you can get additional information are available in this document.
Indoor Air Testing
Mold, particulates and chemical contaminants all contribute to comfort or health challenges in homes and offices. We make the invisible world visible through applied science. IET's indoor air inspection and testing services are designed to determine what contaminants are present, as well as their concentration. The development of an appropriate sampling strategy and the use of the proper sampling equipment are necessary to establish a baseline for your building. Once a baseline of contaminant levels has been established, IET then develops protocols for improving the indoor air quality for residential and commercial properties. Sampling is only performed after a thorough client interview and building history, which is as important as the sampling itself.
The misuse of chemicals and pesticides can create significant health and safety challenges in homes and offices. CEFILLC's inspection and testing services can often determine what contaminants are present, their source within the building and how to reduce chemical and pesticide levels to an acceptable degree for continued, safe occupancy for a residential or commercial property. There will always be a natural and least toxic alternative to all your chemical and pesticide needs. It is our goal to advise you of healthier options for the wellbeing of your building.
Investigation of Building-Associated Health Challenges
Many people feel sick when in a particular building, such as their home or office, but feel better when they leave. These conditions can be the result of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) or Building Related Illnesses (BRI). CEFILLC can help determine the cause of indoor health challenges associated with buildings, as well as develop protocols for correcting building problems that may be contributing. CEFILLC is your building advocate, always searching for ways to make your building as safe and healthy as possible.
Industrial Hygiene Surveys
OSHA and other governmental and industry-related agencies regulate chemical and indoor air quality exposure levels, and other workplace safety and exposure criteria. Workers Compensation and insurance companies are also adamant that these issues be handled safely, and that the handling of these issues be documented properly. CEFILLC assists management in determining the exposure levels and other risks present, as well as developing programs and management plans to control them.
Mold Inspections Step-by-Step
Mold Inspection Industry Leader of California.
Unbiased Mold Testing & Consulting Since 1992
The Florida State licensed and certified mold inspection experts at Indoor Environmental Technologies CEFILLC have been helping residential and commercial clients with their indoor air quality (IAQ) problems since 1992. If your home or business is in need of an unbiased mold inspection, you’ve come to the right place. Our team of expert mold professionals and mold assessors will help you through the difficult process of testing for these potential health hazards in your indoor environment; and, more importantly, interpreting and applying the results accurately. Our goal is to return your building to a safe and healthy indoor environment using applied science.
CEFILLC's mold inspection services are provided in the entire Sf Bay Area, including the entire Northern California
When a Mold Inspection may be Necessary
Mold spores will sooner or later grow anywhere they encounter suitable levels of food and moisture. Molds readily proliferate in buildings that contain excessive moisture, as many building materials are suitable food sources. Mold and mildew can cause odors and aggravate breathing problems such as allergies and asthma. Toxic mold can cause indoor air quality problems leading to allergic reactions and other symptoms. CEFILLC will test for these unhealthy molds, including such potentially toxic molds as Stachybotrys, also known as “black mold”, which may be polluting your indoor environment. Studies have linked some so-called “mold species of concern” to multiple air quality problems, popularly known as "Sick Building Syndrome.” Within a sick building, you could be breathing mold spores and mycotoxins that are compromising the long-term health of your family or employees.
What About Mold Testing Kits? Are they Reliable?
Do-It-Yourself mold test kits have become more popular in recent years to test your home for mold. The fact is you will find some type of mold in your home environment. Therefore, questions that remain are: Is there mold growing in the home? What kind of mold is prevalent? How do you know whether the type of mold is a concern or not? How far has the mold issue spread inside the home? What proper procedures do I need to take to fix the mold problem? A mold professional from IET can answer those concerns. A mold testing kit, unfortunately, cannot.
Mold Inspection Scams
News about mold inspection scams lately have brought on some concerns for consumers on whether any mold testing company can be trusted. For example, companies providing free or extremely low cost mold inspections and then profiting through the remediation process is clearly unethical and a conflict of interest. Homeowners and businesses may spend thousands of dollars on work they didn't need. IET prides themselves on providing unbiased, independent mold testing and strongly recommends using an independent environmental firm. IET does not perform mold remediation nor do we compete with restoration firms. However, a homeowner or property manager can hire us to oversee a mold remediation project to ensure that the work is done properly.
Below is our five-step mold inspection process that, if followed, can successfully return your home or office back to normal concentrations common for healthy buildings.
CEFILLC Five Step Mold and Moisture Inspection Process
If you experience unusual odors or suspect that you may have a mold problem, CEFILLC’s mold professionals can assess the indoor environmental condition of your home or building using our Five Step Mold and Moisture Inspection Process. Our test results can be ready in less than 24 hours for basic projects and within two weeks where samples need to incubate for identification. CEFILLC uses this multi-step technique which has been developed since 1992 to help homeowners and business-professionals with their mold and moisture issues. Mold is everywhere, both inside our homes, office buildings and outside. A healthy building should have similar mold species indoors as outdoors with levels less than those found outdoors. It is the indoor moisture that creates the opportunity for mold to grow out of control in buildings. It is our goal to return your home or office to normal background mold levels acceptable in indoor environments.
Step One: Interview and Building History
We start by obtaining information regarding current and past problems and conditions: humidity or condensation problems, moldy odors, past or present building envelope leaks, plumbing leaks, or any visible mold. We also interview you regarding your health concerns and symptoms. While we inspect and diagnose buildings, not people, your health concerns and symptoms may coincide with changes in your indoor environment. This can help us better understand the situation. The mold investigator’s interview will help narrow down the potential causes of issues in your home or business.
Step Two: Mold Inspection
A complete visual inspection of all accessible areas of concern in your home or building is performed to locate areas of elevated moisture and other problem conditions as well as to identify any visible evidence of mold growth. CEFILLC employs the most technologically advanced equipment to locate areas of concern. Many problems are hidden within air conditioning systems, walls, floors, or ceilings and are concealed from view. Specialized equipment such as moisture meters, hygrometers, borescopes, particle counters, thermal imaging cameras and laser thermometers may be used to help find those hidden problems. Thermal imaging (infrared) cameras help identify areas of elevated moisture invisible to the naked eye. Digital photography documents these problematic conditions and provides clear evidence of your home or buildings issues. At CEFILLC, we really do make the invisible world visible.
Step Three: Mold Testing & Analysis
Mold spores in the air, on surfaces and in carpeting and upholstered furnishings can be invisible to the naked eye. Microscopic mold spores are detected by collecting samples from the air and from surfaces and analyzing them under a microscope or by culturing (growing them in a controlled laboratory environment). Typically, in addition to the inside air samples, an outdoor air sample is also collected. This is done to determine if mold spore concentrations from the indoor air are unusually high in comparison to mold spore concentrations in the outside air. It is crucial that a trained professional microscopist perform the lab analysis of the samples collected from your property. Indoor Environmental Technologies’ staff of expert mold professionals are fully trained in mold spore analysis at the internationally renowned McCrone Research Institute in Chicago or the USF school of Public Health. The mold inspection report you receive will include an analysis of the mold spore concentrations and types of species. In legal, insurance claims or workman’s compensation cases, or where medical concerns are raised, CEFILLC recommends submitting samples to an independent laboratory for analysis.
Step Four: Mold Report & Protocol
CEFILLC provides you with a detailed written report of the inspector’s findings, which may include photo documentation, floor plans, spore levels and analysis of species, along with the inspector’s conclusions and recommendations. But knowing what present conditions are does not by itself solve the problems. If requested, CEFILLC has the expertise to guide the mold remediation process by developing a mold remediation protocol, which provides detailed instructions to the restoration contractor on how to perform removal and cleaning safely and efficiently.
Step Five: Post-Remediation Verification (PRV)
This investigation is performed after remediation has been completed. A Post-Remediation Verification (PRV) survey, also known as a “Clearance Test” includes a visual inspection and moisture assessment of the construction materials that were part of the remediation work. Air and surface samples are also taken for analysis. The PRV inspection is necessary to properly assess whether or not the mold remediation was performed completely and successfully and to provide a document that can be filed for future reference should the need arise.
It is CEFILLC’s goal to create healthy buildings through applied science. If these steps are followed properly they will lead to a successful completion of your mold and moisture challenges and reduce or eliminate symptoms in sensitive individuals.
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a medical condition where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feel unwell for no apparent reason. The symptoms tend to increase in severity with the time people spend in the building, and improve over time or even disappear when people are away from the building. The main identifying observation is an increased incidence of complaints of symptoms such as headache, eye, nose, and throat irritation, fatigue, and dizziness and nausea. These symptoms appear to be linked to time spent in a building, though no specific illness or cause can be identified. SBS is also used interchangeably with "building-related symptoms", which orients the name of the condition around patients rather than a "sick" building. A 1984 World Health Organization (WHO) report suggested up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be subject of complaints related to poor indoor air quality.
Sick building causes are frequently pinned down to flaws in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. However, there have been inconsistent findings on whether air conditioning systems result in SBS or not. Other causes have been attributed to contaminants produced by outgassing of some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOC), molds (see mold health issues), improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (byproduct of some office machinery), light industrial chemicals used within, or lack of adequate fresh-air intake/air filtration (see Minimum efficiency reporting value).
Signs and symptoms
Human exposure to bioaerosols has been documented to give rise to a variety of adverse health effects. Building occupants complain of symptoms such as sensory irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat; neurotoxic or general health problems; skin irritation; nonspecific hypersensitivity reactions; infectious diseases; and odor and taste sensations. Exposure to poor lighting conditions has led to general malaise.
Extrinsic allergic alveolitis has been associated with the presence of fungi and bacteria in the moist air of residential houses and commercial offices. A very large 2017 Swedish study  correlated several inflammatory diseases of the respiration tract with objective evidence of damp-caused damage in homes.
The WHO has classified the reported symptoms into broad categories, including: mucous membrane irritation (eye, nose, and throat irritation), neurotoxic effects (headaches, fatigue, and irritability), asthma and asthma-like symptoms (chest tightness and wheezing), skin dryness and irritation, gastrointestinal complaints and more.
Several sick occupants may report individual symptoms which do not appear to be connected. The key to discovery is the increased incidence of illnesses in general with onset or exacerbation within a fairly close time frame—usually within a period of weeks. In most cases, SBS symptoms will be relieved soon after the occupants leave the particular room or zone. However, there can be lingering effects of various neurotoxins, which may not clear up when the occupant leaves the building. In some cases—particularly in sensitive individuals—there can be long-term health effects.
It has been suggested[by whom?] that sick building syndrome could be caused by inadequate ventilation, deteriorating fiberglass duct liners, chemical contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources, and biological contaminants, air recycled using fan coils, traffic noise, poor lighting, and buildings located in a polluted urban area. Many volatile organic compounds, which are considered chemical contaminants, can cause acute effects on the occupants of a building. "Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants" and can all cause SBS. In addition, pollution from outdoors, such as motor vehicle exhaust, can contribute to SBS. Adult SBS symptoms were associated with a history of allergic rhinitis, eczema and asthma.
A 2015 study concerning the association of SBS and indoor air pollutants in office buildings in Iran found as CO2 levels increase in a building, symptoms like nausea, headaches, nasal irritation, dyspnea, and throat dryness have also been shown to increase. Certain work conditions have been found to be correlated with specific symptoms. For example, higher light intensity was significantly related to skin dryness, eye pain, and malaise. Higher temperature has also been found to correlate with symptoms such as sneezing, skin redness, itchy eyes and headache, while higher relative humidity has been associated with sneezing, skin redness, and pain of the eyes.
ASHRAE has recognized that polluted urban air, designated within the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)´s air quality ratings as unacceptable requires the installation of treatment such as filtration for which the HVAC practitioners generally apply carbon impregnated filters and their like.
In 1973, in response to the 1973 oil crisis and conservation concerns, ASHRAE Standards 62-73 and 62-81 reduced required ventilation from 10 CFM (4.76 L/s) per person to 5 CFM (2.37 L/s) per person, but this was found to be a contributing factor to sick building syndrome. As of the 2016 revision, ASHRAE ventilation standards call for 5 to 10 CFM of ventilation per occupant (depending on the occupancy type) in addition to ventilation based on the zone floor area delivered to the breathing zone.
One study looked at commercial buildings and their employees, comparing some environmental factors suspected of inducing SBS to a self-reported survey of the occupants, finding that the measured psycho-social circumstances appeared more influential than the tested environmental factors. The list of environmental factors in the study can be found here. Limitations of the study include that it only measured the indoor environment of commercial buildings, which have different building codes than residential buildings, and that the assessment of building environment was based on layman observation of a limited number of factors.
Research has shown that SBS shares several symptoms common in other conditions thought to be at least partially caused by psychosomatic tendencies. The umbrella term "autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants" has been suggested. Other members of the suggested group include Silicosis, Macrophagic myofasciitis, The Gulf War syndrome, Post-vaccination phenomena.
Greater effects were found with features of the psychosocial work environment including high job demands and low support. The report concluded that the physical environment of office buildings appears to be less important than features of the psychosocial work environment in explaining differences in the prevalence of symptoms. However, there is still a relationship between sick building syndrome and symptoms of workers regardless of workplace stress.
Excessive work stress or dissatisfaction, poor interpersonal relationships and poor communication are often seen to be associated with SBS, recent studies show that a combination of environmental sensitivity and stress can greatly contribute to sick building syndrome.
Specific work-related stressors are related with specific SBS symptoms. Workload and work conflict are significantly associated with general symptoms (headache, abnormal tiredness, sensation of cold or nausea). While crowded workspaces and low work satisfaction are associated with upper respiratory symptoms.
Engineers are often affected by sick building syndrome. One studied case is that of Stephen Danielson, who typically has the ailment for 6 months out of the year. It manifests as a wheeze, commonly known as the Danielson Wheeze.
Specific careers are also associated with specific SBS symptoms. Transport, communication, healthcare, and social workers have highest prevalence of general symptoms. Skin symptoms such as eczema, itching, and rashes on hands and face are associated with technical work. Forestry, agriculture, and sales workers have the lowest rates of sick building syndrome symptoms.
Milton et al. determined the cost of sick leave specific for one business was an estimated $480 per employee, and about five days of sick leave per year could be attributed to low ventilation rates. When comparing low ventilation rate areas of the building to higher ventilation rate areas, the relative risk of short-term sick leave was 1.53 times greater in the low ventilation areas.
Work productivity has been associated with ventilation rates, a contributing factor to SBS, and there's a significant increase in production as ventilation rates increase, by 1.7% for every two-fold increase of ventilation rate.
Sick building syndrome can also occur due to factors of the home. Laminated flooring can cause more exposure to chemicals and more resulting SBS symptoms compared to stone, tile, and cement flooring. Recent redecorating and new furnishings within the last year were also found to be associated with increased symptoms, along with dampness and related factors, having pets, and the presence of cockroaches. The presence of mosquitoes was also a factor related to more symptoms, though it is unclear whether it was due to the presence of mosquitoes or the use of repellents.
While sick building syndrome (SBS) encompasses a multitude of non-specific symptoms, building-related illness (BRI) comprises specific, diagnosable symptoms caused by certain agents (chemicals, bacteria, fungi, etc.). These can typically be identified, measured, and quantified. There are usually 4 causal agents in BRI; 1.) Immunologic, 2.) Infectious, 3.) toxic, and 4.) irritant. For instance, Legionnaire's disease, usually caused by Legionella pneumophila, involves a specific organism which could be ascertained through clinical findings as the source of contamination within a building. SBS does not have any known cure; alleviation consists of removing the affected person from the building associated with non-specific symptoms. BRI, on the other hand, utilizes treatment appropriate for the contaminant identified within the building (e.g., antibiotics for Legionnaire's disease). In most cases, simply improving the indoor air quality (IAQ) of a particular building will attenuate, or even eliminate, the acute symptoms of SBS, while removal of the source contaminant would prove more effective for a specific illness, as in the case of BRI. Building-Related Illness is vital to the overall understanding of Sick Building Syndrome because BRI illustrates a causal path to infection, theoretically. Office BRI may more likely than not be explained by three events: “Wide range in the threshold of response in any population (susceptibility), a spectrum of response to any given agent, or variability in exposure within large office buildings." Isolating any one of the three aspects of office BRI can be a great challenge, which is why those who find themselves with BRI should take three steps, history, examinations, and interventions. History describes the action of continually monitoring and recording the health of workers experiencing BRI, as well as obtaining records of previous building alterations or related activity. Examinations go hand in hand with monitoring employee health. This step is done by physically examining the entire workspace and evaluating possible threats to health status among employees. Interventions follow accordingly based off the results of the Examination and History report.
Roof shingle non-pressure cleaning for removal of algae, mold, and Gloeocapsa magma.
Using ozone to eliminate the many sources, such as VOC, molds, mildews, bacteria, viruses, and even odors however numerous studies identify High-ozone shock treatment as ineffective despite commercial popularity and popular belief.
Replacement of water-stained ceiling tiles and carpeting.
Use of paints, adhesives, solvents, and pesticides in well-ventilated areas and use of these pollutant sources during periods of non-occupancy.
Increasing the number of air exchanges; the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommend a minimum of 8.4 air exchanges per 24-hour period.
Proper and frequent maintenance of HVAC systems.
UV-C light in the HVAC plenum.
Installation of HVAC Air Cleaning systems or devices to remove VOC's, bioeffluents (people odors) from HVAC systems conditioned air.
Regular vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner to collect and retain 99.97% of particles down to and including 0.3 micrometers.
Place bedding in sunshine, which is related to a study done in a high-humidity area where damp bedding was common and associated with SBS.
Increased ventilation rates that are above the minimum guidelines.
Lighting in the workplace should be designed to give individuals control, and be natural when possible.
Some studies have shown a small difference between genders, with women having slightly higher reports of SBS symptoms compared to men. However, many other studies have shown an even higher difference in the report of sick building syndrome symptoms in women compared to men. It is not entirely clear, however, if this is due to biological, social, or occupational factors.
A 2001 study published in the Journal Indoor Air 2001 gathered 1464 office-working participants to increase the scientific understanding of gender differences under the Sick Building Syndrome phenomenon. Using questionnaires, ergonomic investigations, building evaluations, as well as physical, biological, and chemical variables, the investigators obtained results that compare with past studies of SBS and gender. The study team found that across most test variables, prevalence rates were different in most areas, but there was also a deep stratification of working conditions between genders as well. For example, men’s workplace tend to be significantly larger and have all around better job characteristics. Secondly, there was a noticeable difference in reporting rates, finding that women have higher rates of reporting roughly 20% higher than men. This information was similar to that found in previous studies, indicating a potential difference in willingness to report.
There might be a gender difference in reporting rates of sick building syndrome because women tend to report more symptoms than men do. Along with this, some studies have found that women have a more responsive immune system and are more prone to mucosal dryness and facial erythema. Also, women are alleged by some to be more exposed to indoor environmental factors because they have a greater tendency to have clerical jobs, wherein they are exposed to unique office equipment and materials (example: blueprint machines), whereas men often have jobs based outside of offices.