Formaldehyde Sensitivity

A study in the early 1980s done by Small and Associates for the National Research Council of Canada contains a useful medical appendix documenting information known to that date about hypersensitivity to formaldehyde and other chemical exposures. The general results of the study are also applicable to some of the chemical exposures that students and staff may receive in a school setting, and the conclusions may be helpful to school board personnel in understanding the patterns of illness that may be present.

The following conclusions about sensitivity to formaldehyde and other chemical exposures are drawn from the primary source listed below:

1. People differ widely in their susceptibility to toxic chemicals. Some people show effects at levels that may not affect the majority.

2. All people at some time during their lifetime will be at risk to one or more commonly encountered pollutants.

3. The history of pollution episodes shows that the very young and the very old were more severely affected than other age groups. Chronically ill individuals, especially those with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, were the most seriously affected.

4. An increasing number of people seem to be exhibiting a general susceptibility to common chemical exposures at levels of exposure far below those normally considered toxic or irritating.

5. There is evidence that for some people chemical exposure can trigger a widespread susceptibility to chemicals and common allergens, even if the person has no previous history of susceptibility, allergy or other illness.

6. There is growing evidence that a number of people have developed some form of sensitivity to formaldehyde. Reduction of exposure for these people tends to reduce or alleviate symptoms, and reexposure to even minute levels of the gas may bring symptoms on again.

7. Allergic or sensitized individuals may have even severe reactions to formaldehyde levels below the odour threshold.

8. Avoidance of formaldehyde and other potent chemical exposures is the first and foremost method of treatment of formaldehyde sensitivity and general chemical susceptibility.

Formaldehyde exposures from high-emission carpeting (illustrated below) have become problematic for many chemically susceptible individuals. Low-emission carpeting is now available particularly on the Canadian market.

  Record #19, revised 1/3/2001


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