Greatest Hits 1 – Formaldehyde Comparisons

I recently ranted about proposed anti-formaldehyde legislation. I noted that formaldehyde is a natural part of life. This put me in mind of when I was living and working in Japan, a country that went on the anti-formaldehyde bandwagon years before the U.S. hopped aboard. I was talking with some customers about a product, translating between them and the supplier of the material. They asked if it had formaldehyde in it and were told it did not. They insisted that surely it did, that all foreign products had to contain formaldehyde, it was just known to be true. I asked them if they knew what formaldehyde was. They did not. I asked them if they knew that it was present in apples and spinach and smoked salmon. They did not. I asked them if they would stop eating apples and spinach and smoked salmon and they said no. Why not? Because that was “natural” formaldehyde.

Let’s compare the structure of natural and artificial formaldehyde:

Personally, I don’t see the difference.

That makes me think of one my other favorite stories. A year or so ago, I was talking to an American woman about formaldehyde issues. I quoted a few statistics to show that it wasn’t quite as harmful as she just KNEW it was. She got quite angry and nearly shouted, “Stop trying to confuse me with science!”


OK, for those of you who want some nice comparisons to tell YOUR customers:

  • The standard human body, through natural metabolic processes, generates and disposes of about 45,000 mg every day. This means that a person would have to breathe air from CARB 2 particleboard for over 61 YEARS just to equal the amount that a body naturally generates and consumes in 24 hours. (Please pause and reread that figure: 61 years of CARB P2 emissions equals what you, as an average adult, naturally produces every 24 hours. Forget what you eat or breathe—this is what your own body is doing.)
  • The average American “eats” at least 10 CARB 2 particleboards a day.
  • Every time a baby exhales, they emit approximately 500 times the proposed acceptable level of formaldehyde according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Let’s take that one a bit further. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ‘safe level’ for exposure to formaldehyde is eight parts per trillion. (Personally I think the Environmental Protection Agency may be right—at that level, I don’t think even the most sensitive of us could be harmed.) Now let’s apply the ‘safe level’ to automobiles since a lot more people are harmed (and killed) by automobiles than by formaldehyde. That would work out to just over 0.05 of a car for the entire population of Earth. Yes, that’s about a steering wheel and perhaps part of a tire for all of us to share. Certainly we could all cross the street a lot more safely.

Come on, folks!  Let’s stop trying to scare people and put some common sense back into our regulatory system.

Reposted on May 23, 2017.

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