Formaldehyde is a colourless, irritating and unpleasant smelling flammable gas. It is soluble  in water and often used as water based solution known as formalin.

Formaldehyde - a priority chemical

The NSW Work health and safety roadmap has a target of a 30 per cent reduction in serious injuries and illnesses by 2022, which comprises a reduction in exposures to hazardous chemicals and materials. A priority list of 100 chemicals, based on national and international research was developed, in which ranked formaldehyde first.

Read our general fact sheet (also available in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Vietnamese).

Uses of formaldehyde

Formaldehyde solutions (formalin) are used in hospitals, pathology and anatomy laboratories, and funeral homes for embalming, foundries and leather tanneries. Large quantities of formaldehyde-based resins are used as glue for manufacturing wood pressed products such as particleboards and plywood. It is also present in low concentrations in a variety of consumer products.

Harms from formaldehyde

Formaldehyde/formalin, depending on factors such as the concentration, can cause the following health effects:

  • irritation, burns  and allergic reactions with direct skin contact
  • serious damage with direct eye contact
  • eye, nose and throat irritation through inhalation.

Very low concentrations of formaldehyde can cause skin reactions in allergic individuals. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause nasal cancers, however adequate controls such as minimising the generation of vapours and mists and use of personal protective equipment can prevent any hazardous exposures and illness in the workplace.

Protecting yourself and others

  • Eliminate the use of formaldehyde if reasonably practicable.
  • Substitute high concentration formalin products with low concentrations.
  • Ensure effective ventilation is in place to reduce exposure to formaldehyde.
  • Use appropriate tools to avoid  skin contact with formaldehyde solutions.
  • Use well maintained and appropriate personal protective equipment such as respirators, safety goggles and gloves.
  • Ensure adequate engineering (eg – local exhaust ventilation) and personal protective controls are in place when  undertaking high exposure activities.
  • Follow instructions and controls outlined in safety data sheets and product labels.

Technical information on formaldehyde

More detail on formaldehyde can be found in our formaldehyde technical fact sheet.

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