We recently tested several new homes for formaldehyde in the air. The newest home, advertised as a “green” home, had 300 ppb of formaldehyde. Children in homes with only 30 ppb can have decreased lung function. Between 60 ppb and 120 ppb, children are more likely to have asthma and chronic bronchitis. At 100 ppb, most adults experience eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Of homes that were less than 2 years old, every home we tested had at least 100 ppb of formaldehyde. The newer homes had 200 – 300 ppb.
The 300 ppb concentration we found in the newest home is equal to the 15-minute Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) for occupational exposures. A worker in that home should wear a respirator to remain inside the building for more than 15 minutes. An employer that exposes workers to 300 ppb of formaldehyde should have a Hazard Communication Program to inform workers about chemical hazards and ways to avoid illness.
There are no similar requirements in homes. Builders and real estate agents do not test for formaldehyde before they sell a home. They do not disclose that new homes can have high levels of formaldehyde. Most home buyers do not know new homes can make them ill. Most parents do not realize that formaldehyde in the home can aggravate a child’s asthma.
Home buyers can protect themselves by requiring the builder or agent to confirm their new home does not contain hazardous levels of formaldehyde. Once they have moved into their new home, occupants should ventilate the home by opening the windows for several hours a couple of times each week. Continue ventilating the home for several years, because it takes a number of years for new building materials to release most of the formaldehyde they contain.
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