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New Cutting-Edge University Research Confirms Safe Exposure Level for Formaldehyde1

For years, formaldehyde chemistry has faced close scrutiny regarding appropriate regulatory levels, safe exposure threshold levels, and the potential link between formaldehyde exposure and cancer. This is despite decades worth of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating safe exposure levels and lack of association with cancers at current relevant human exposure levels.

As part of an ongoing portfolio of formaldehyde research by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), additional new data conclusively support existing science-based safe formaldehyde thresholds. Researchers measured impacts of low levels of formaldehyde on DNA adducts because that indicator has been demonstrated to be the most sensitive biomarker for exposure to formaldehyde. The result: No DNA damage detected in any tissue examined. UNC’s research is the most accurate measure of exposure – thus demonstrating that current safe exposure limits are more than adequately protective.

Why is this research cutting-edge?

First and foremost, you should know that over an ounce of formaldehyde is naturally formed in the human body every day and exhaled in every breath. Formaldehyde is present in every cell in our bodies, which makes it challenging to evaluate how much inhaled formaldehyde travels into the body when we are exposed to it from an outside source. What makes the UNC research revolutionary is that scientists were able to differentiate between inhaled formaldehyde from what the human body is naturally producing.  This allowed the researchers to precisely determine how each source of formaldehyde affects the body and, most importantly, at what levels the body’s natural defense mechanisms could be overwhelmed.

Why is this differentiation so important?

By identifying how externally inhaled versus naturally produced formaldehyde affects the body, the UNC research team verified, using the most sensitive measurement technique available, that inhaled formaldehyde does not travel beyond the nose, thus limiting its ability to cause adverse health effects. Even more significantly, the research shows no inhaled formaldehyde reaches distant site organ systems such as the blood circulatory system, making it virtually impossible for formaldehyde to cause blood diseases such as leukemia.

What is a safe exposure level for formaldehyde?

Safe exposure levels for formaldehyde have been clearly demonstrated by years of scientific study. Federal and international agencies developing chemical assessments and evaluating chemical risk must consider the entire weight-of-evidence on formaldehyde when establishing exposure levels.  The current science demonstrates that safe threshold levels developed by the World Health Organization,[2] for example, continue to be protective against all potential adverse effects.

Based on this portfolio of game-changing research at UNC, as well as the dozens of 30+ years of past peer-reviewed studies – minding the science leads to supporting the safe and responsible use of the chemistry of formaldehyde.


[1] Evaluation of Inhaled Dose Formaldehyde Induced DNA adducts and DN-protein cross-links by Liquid Chromatography – Tandem Mass Spectrometry, Lun, K et. al.

[2] The World Health Organization has set a protective indoor air guideline for formaldehyde of 80 parts per billion.

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