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K-HEALTHinAIR project: Revealing hidden toxins in everyday household objects

K-HEALTHinAIR project: Revealing hidden toxins in everyday household objects
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Formaldehyde, a colourless, pungent-smelling gas, is found in an array of common materials and products, from building materials and household items to cosmetics. Despite its widespread use, formaldehyde presents considerable health concerns due to its potential to cause respiratory problems and its long-term implications, such as cancer.

 

 

In many homes and workplaces, formaldehyde is released into the air from products that contain formaldehyde-based resins. These are often found in construction materials such as particleboard, plywood, and fibreboard, which release formaldehyde gas, especially when new or heated. Common household products like glues, paints, and varnishes also emit formaldehyde, particularly when freshly applied. Additionally, some furniture and fabrics, notably those treated to be wrinkle-resistant under labels such as “permanent-press,” can continue to off-gas formaldehyde over time. Another significant source of indoor formaldehyde is tobacco smoke, which greatly increases its concentration when smoking occurs indoors.

 

The health risks linked to formaldehyde are substantial and prompt concern from both individuals and health agencies. Short-term exposure can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, and result in symptoms like coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation, usually subsiding once the exposure ends. However, long-term exposure is more alarming due to its association with serious health issues, including persistent respiratory symptoms, severe allergic reactions, and asthma in children. Notably, formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen, with research indicating its role in cancers such as nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukaemia.

 

Managing indoor levels of formaldehyde is crucial for health and air quality. Strategies include enhancing ventilation when using products that release formaldehyde, such as by opening windows or using exhaust fans to help disperse the gas. Choosing safer products labelled as low-formaldehyde or formaldehyde-free can also reduce exposure. Additionally, using air purifiers with filters that capture formaldehyde and maintaining optimal indoor humidity levels (between 30% and 50%) can help minimize its release from materials.

 

The European Union has implemented strict regulations to control formaldehyde exposure, recognizing its carcinogenic and mutagenic properties. These regulations aim to reduce health risks, ensuring protection against both sensory irritation and more severe long-term effects. Compliance with these standards reflects a commitment to consumer safety and public health, guiding manufacturers towards safer production practices.

 

K-HEALTHinAIR, an interdisciplinary research project partnered by ECHAlliance as dissemination and communication leader, focuses on increasing knowledge about chemical and biological indoor air pollutants and enhancing indoor air quality monitoring and improvement. The project plays a pivotal role in informing and improving policies to mitigate risk factors associated with poor indoor air quality, which can significantly affect health, particularly in vulnerable populations.

 

 

If you’re curious to learn more about our work and the impact we’re making, follow us on X and LinkedIn for updates and insights.

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