Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a colourless, irritating and unpleasant smelling flammable gas used for embalming or in glues.

Protection

Exposure to formaldehyde mainly occurs through inhalation, ingestion or direct contact with the skin or eyes.

Where possible you should not use formaldehyde, or use other, safer products that don’t contain it.

If you have to work with formaldehyde you must:

  • use ventilation
  • substitute with lower concentration products
  • use tools to avoid skin contact
  • use the right personal protective equipment (PPE), eg respirators, safety goggles, chemical resistant clothing and gloves
  • train workers to fit, use and maintain PPE
  • have safety equipment available, eg eye wash and showers
  • do air monitoring regularly
  • always follow the advice in safety data sheets and on product labels.

In the event of suspected exposure, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126.

Uses

Formaldehyde is soluble in water and often used as a water based solution known as formalin. 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

The potential for harm depends on concentration and duration of use. Exposure can cause:

  • 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.

More information

Read the formaldehyde technical fact sheet.

The fact sheet is also available in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi or Vietnamese.

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