All About Formaldehyde

A naturally occurring organic compound used in binders for composite wood products, among other things, formaldehyde can create serious health problems in those exposed to high concentrations.

July 29, 2008

When we hear “formaldehyde,” a lot of us probably think of the liquid preserving frogs awaiting dissection, back in high school. That liquid, called formalin, is a solution of about 40% formaldehyde and 60% water. Formaldehyde is a simple organic compound, consisting of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. At atmospheric temperature and pressure it is a colorless gas with a distinctive, pungent odor. It occurs naturally, though generally at concentrations no higher than 0.03 parts per million (ppm).

Formaldehyde is also manufactured and used for a wide range of products, including adhesives, paints, fabrics, paper products, and even cosmetics. The very first plastic—bakelite, invented in 1905—was a polymerized phenol formaldehyde, and modifications of that compound are still widely used. Formaldehyde is prevalent enough that it rates its own trade association to sing its praises.