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Formaldehyde Exposure Risks
Formaldehyde remains in numerous consumer goods, including baby shampoo at rates hundreds of times higher than the threshold set by OSHA to be below the level for increased risk of developing cancer.
After decades of known health risks from exposure to formaldehyde, it was finally added to the EPA list of known carcinogens. However, formaldehyde remains in numerous consumer goods, including baby shampoo at rates hundreds of times higher than the threshold set by the EPA to be below the level for increased risk of developing cancer.
Formaldehyde was declared a "known human carcinogen" in the 12th Report on Carcinogens, published by the National Toxicology Program in June of 2011. Studies show that formaldehyde increases the risk of leukemia, nasal cancer and nasopharyngeal.
Although formaldehyde has finally been declared a carcinogen, no limitations on its inclusion in consumer goods, from building materials to body care, have been set by government agencies. It is up to consumers to choose products without formaldehyde, even though it is not on product labels or required on literature about the products that continue to include this known carcinogen.
The most talked about exposure to formaldehyde at the current time is from hair straightening products such as Brazillian Blowout cosmetics such as Johnson and Johnson, and other, baby shampoos and consumer soap products. It is created by the breakdown of quaternium-15, which is used as a preservative. According to OSHA, the 15 minute, short-term, limit for exposure in the workplace for an average-sized adult is 2 parts per million (PPM) to prevent exposure from reaching the limit known to increase the risk of adverse health effects. In addition, health effects caused by formaldehyde are supposed to be listed on the label of the product if airborne concentrations can reach or exceed 1 ppm.
Testing of Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo revealed that the formaldehyde concentration in the samples tested were as high as 210 ppm. Some of the products tested had levels of formaldehyde double what was found in Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo. A normal, thinking, rational mind can comprehend that the level of 210 or more ppm dumped on a baby or used to wash a child will far exceed the safety standard set by OSHA of 2 ppm for an adult. This is simply common sense. However, cosmetics are not regulated and do not require the same safety warning information as products covered by OSHA which require proper labeling for products used in a work environment that contain this high of a level of formaldehyde.
It is already clear that formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, as it is classified as such by the EPA. Further research reveals a number of other health effects related to high formaldehyde exposures. It is interesting that the corresponding health conditions associated with formaldehyde exposure are dramatically on the rise in our children, such as cancers, leukemia and other chronic medical conditions such as asthma, allergies and eczema.
The EPA has established that exposure levels above 2 ppm increase the risk of developing cancers caused by excessive formaldehyde. However, other adverse reactions occur at levels less than 1 ppm. These include wheezing, watery eyes, coughing, nausea, skin irritation and burning of the eyes, nose and throat.
Since wheezing was mentioned by the National Cancer Institute, and asthma rates have dramatically increased during the same time frame as formaldehyde being used in building materials and consumer goods such as cosmetics (soaps, shampoos, lotions, creams) , I decided to check further into this connection on the National Library of Medicine. According to numerous studies, there is definitely a correlation between formaldehyde exposure and the risk of developing asthma and lower respiratory infections in children. One of the studies even went so far as to state that formaldehyde exposure 'induces' asthma - meaning that it causes asthma. In addition to phthalates, which are synthetic fragrances known to increase the risk of developing asthma, it is not a wonder that the rate of asthma has skyrocketed over the past four decades.
Skin irritation was another risk associated with formaldehyde exposure that was mentioned by the National Cancer Institute document. Again, numerous studies show that eczema and dermatitis are definitely increased with formaldehyde exposure. Eczema and asthma are often presented together, most likely due to a higher concentration of exposure to formaldehyde in the home.
12th Report on Carcinogens
National Toxicology Program Fact Sheet on Formaldehyde
National Cancer Institute: Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk
OSHA letter regarding Brazillian Blowout
USAToday: Group Finds Carcinogens in Kids Bath Products (excellent list with amounts and a large variety of the products tested)
TIME HealthLand: Why the U.S. Finally Acted on Chemical Safety
Asthma and Respiratory Infection Studies:
Adjuvant effects of gaseous formaldehyde on the hyper-responsiveness and inflammation in a mouse asthma model immunized by ovalbumin.
Medium-density fibreboard and occupational asthma. A case series.
Formaldehyde Exposure and Lower Respiratory Infections in Infants: Findings from the PARIS Cohort Study.
Association between cleaning-related chemicals and work-related asthma and asthma symptoms among healthcare professionals.
Formaldehyde exposure and asthma in children: a systematic review.
Formaldehyde interferes with airway epithelium integrity and functions in a dose- and time-dependent manner.
Eczema and Dermatitis Studies:
Allergic contact dermatitis from formaldehyde. A case study focussing on sources of formaldehyde exposure.
Formaldehyde-releasers: relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy. Contact allergy to formaldehyde and inventory of formaldehyde-releasers.
Difficulties in avoiding exposure to allergens in cosmetics.
New insights in the pathogenesis of atopic disease.
Ambient formaldehyde levels and allergic disorders among Japanese pregnant women: baseline data from the Osaka maternal and child health study.
Formaldehyde allergy: A follow-up study.