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Requirements of Formaldehyde in Wood




Chemikalienverbotsverordnung – Chemical prohibition Act – Formaldehyde in certain wooden consumer articles


        - Wooden products: Formadehyde Emission should not be greater than 0.1 ppm

        - Paper products: Formadehyde Emission should not be greater than 1 ppm


DIN EN 717-1  Holzwerkstoffe, Formaldehydabgabe nach der Prüfkammer-Methode


DIN EN 120  Holzwerkstoffe - Bestimmung des Formaldehydgehaltes nach der Perforatormethode



Test Methods


European Methods


EN 717-1:2005

Wood-based panels. Determination of formaldehyde release. Formaldehyde emission by the chamber method


EN 717-2:1995

Wood-based panels. Determination of formaldehyde release. Formaldehyde release by the gas analysis method


EN 717-3:1996

Wood-based panels. Determination of formaldehyde release. Formaldehyde release by the flask method


EN 120:1992

Wood-based panels. Determination of formaldehyde content; extraction method called perforator method


EN 1084:1995

Plywood - formaldehyde emission classes according to the gas analysis method


COST Guideline 613, Report Nr.2 (1989)

Test chamber method according to the Regulation on Hazardous Materials (large chamber)


Australian Methods


AS/NZS 4266.16:2004 + A1:2006
Reconstituted wood-based panels - Methods of test - Formaldehyde emission - Desiccator method



What is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is an important industrial chemical used to make other chemicals, building materials, and household products. It is one of the large family of chemical compounds called volatile organic compounds or "VOCs". The term volatile means that the compounds vaporize, that is, become a gas, at normal room temperatures. Formaldehyde serves many purposes in products. It is used as a part of:

  • the glue or adhesive in pressed wood products (particleboard, hardwood plywood, and medium density fiberboard (MDF));
  • preservatives in some paints, coatings, and cosmetics;
  • the coating that provides permanent press quality to fabrics and draperies;
  • the finish used to coat paper products; and
  • certain insulation materials (urea-formaldehyde foam and fiberglass insulation).

Formaldehyde is released into the air by burning wood, kerosene or natural gas, by automobiles, and by cigarettes. Formaldehyde can off-gas from materials made with it. It is also a naturally occurring substance.

Why Should You Be Concerned?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas. When present in the air at levels above 0.1 ppm (parts in a million parts of air), it can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat, nausea, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, skin rashes, and allergic reactions. It also has been observed to cause cancer in scientific studies using laboratory animals and may cause cancer in humans. Typical exposures to humans are much lower; thus any risk of causing cancer is believed to be small at the level at which humans are exposed.

Formaldehyde can affect people differently. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde while others may not have any noticeable reaction to the same level.

Persons have developed allergic reactions (allergic skin disease and hives) to formaldehyde through skin contact with solutions of formaldehyde or durable-press clothing containing formaldehyde. Others have developed asthmatic reactions and skin rashes from exposure to formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is just one of several gases present indoors that may cause illnesses. Many of these gases, as well as colds and flu, cause similar symptoms.

What Levels of Formaldehyde Are

Formaldehyde is normally present at low levels, usually less than 0.03 ppm, in both outdoor and indoor air. The outdoor air in rural areas has lower concentrations while urban areas have higher concentrations. Residences or offices that contain products that release formaldehyde to the air can have formaldehyde levels of greater than 0.03 ppm. Products that may add formaldehyde to the air include particleboard used as flooring underlayment, shelving, furniture and cabinets; MDF in cabinets and furniture; hardwood plywood wall panels, and urea-formaldehyde foam used as insulation. As formaldehyde levels increase, illness or discomfort is more likely to occur and may be more serious.

What Affects Formaldehyde Levels?

Formaldehyde levels in the indoor air depend mainly on what is releasing the formaldehyde (the source), the temperature, the humidity, and the air exchange rate (the amount of outdoor air entering or leaving the indoor area). Increasing the flow of outdoor air to the inside decreases the formaldehyde levels. Decreasing this flow of outdoor air by sealing the residence or office increases the formaldehyde level in the indoor air.

As the temperature rises, more formaldehyde is emitted from the product. The reverse is also true; less formaldehyde is emitted at lower temperature. Humidity also affects the release of formaldehyde from the product. As humidity rises more formaldehyde is released.

The formaldehyde levels in a residence change with the season and from day-to-day and day-to-night. Levels may be high on a hot and humid day and low on a cool, dry day. Understanding these factors is important when you consider measuring the levels of formaldehyde.

Some sources-such as pressed wood products containing urea-formaldehyde glues, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, durable-press fabrics, and draperies-release more formaldehyde when new. As they age, the formaldehyde release decreases.

What are the Major Sources?

1. Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation: During the 1970s, many homeowners installed this insulation to save energy. Many of these homes had high levels of formaldehyde soon afterwards.
Sale of urea-formaldehyde foam insulation has largely stopped. Formaldehyde released from this product decreases rapidly after the first few months and reaches background levels in a few years. Therefore, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation installed 5 to 10 years ago is unlikely to still release formaldehyde.

2. Durable-press fabrics, draperies and coated paper products: In the early 1960s, there were several reports of allergic reactions to formaldehyde from durable-press fabrics and coated paper products. Such reports have declined in recent years as industry has taken steps to reduce formaldehyde levels. Draperies made of formaldehyde-treated durable press fabrics may add slightly to indoor formaldehyde levels.

3. Cosmetics, paints, coatings, and some wet-strength paper products: The amount of formaldehyde present in these products is small and is of slight concern. However, persons sensitive to formaldehyde may have allergic reactions.

4. Pressed wood products: Pressed wood products, especially those containing urea-formaldehyde glues, are a source of formaldehyde. These products include particleboard used as flooring underlayment, shelves, cabinets, and furniture; hardwood plywood wall panels; and medium density fiberboard used in drawers, cabinets and furniture. When the surfaces and edges of these products are unlaminated or uncoated they have the potential to release more formaldehyde. Manufacturers have reduced formaldehyde emissions from pressed wood products by 80-90% from the levels of the early 1980.

5. Combustion sources: Burning materials such as wood, kerosene, cigarettes and natural gas, and operating internal combustion engines (e.g. automobiles), produce small quantities of formaldehyde. Combustion sources add small amounts of formaldehyde to indoor air.

6. Products such as carpets or gypsum board do not contain significant amounts of formaldehyde when new. They may trap formaldehyde emitted from other sources and later release the formaldehyde into the indoor air when the temperature and humidity change.

Do You Have Formaldehyde-Related Symptoms?

There are several formaldehyde-related symptoms, such as watery eyes, runny nose, burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches and fatigue. These symptoms may also occur because of the common cold, the flu or other pollutants that may be present in the indoor air. If these symptoms lessen when you are away from home or office but reappear upon your return, they may be caused by indoor pollutants, including formaldehyde. Examine your environment. Have you recently moved into a new or different home or office? Have you recently remodeled or installed new cabinets or furniture? Symptoms may be due to formaldehyde exposure. You should contact your physician and/or state or local health department for help. Your physician can help to determine if the cause of your symptoms is formaldehyde or other pollutants.

Should You Measure Formaldehyde?

Only trained professionals should measure formaldehyde because they know how to interpret the results. If you become ill, and the illness persists following the purchase of furniture or remodeling with pressed wood products, you might not need to measure formaldehyde. Since these are possible sources, you can take action. You may become ill after painting, sealing, making repairs, and/or applying pest control treatment in your home or office. In such cases, indoor air pollutants other than formaldehyde may be the cause. If the source is not obvious, you should consult a physician to determine whether or not your symptoms might relate to indoor air quality problems. If your physician believes that you may be sensitive to formaldehyde, you may want to make some measurements. As discussed earlier, many factors can affect the level of formaldehyde on a given day in an office or residence. This is why a professional is best suited to make an accurate measurement of the levels.

Do-it-yourself formaldehyde measuring devices are available, however these devices can only provide a "ball park" estimate for the formaldehyde level in the area. If you use such a device, carefully follow the instructions.

How Do You Reduce Formaldehyde Exposure?

Every day you probably use many products that contain formaldehyde. You may not be able to avoid coming in contact with some formaldehyde in your normal daily routine. If you are sensitive to formaldehyde, you will need to avoid many everyday items to reduce symptoms. For most people, a low-level exposure to formaldehyde (up to 0.1 ppm) does not produce symptoms. People who suspect they are sensitive to formaldehyde should work closely with a knowledgeable physician to make sure that it is formaldehyde causing their symptoms.

You can avoid exposure to higher levels by:

  • Purchasing pressed wood products such as particleboard, MDF, or hardwood plywood for construction or remodeling of homes, or for do-it-yourself projects, that are labeled or stamped to be in conformance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) criteria. Particleboard should be in conformance with ANSI A208.1-1993. For particleboard flooring, look for ANSI grades "PBU", "D2", or "D3" actually stamped on the panel. MDF should be in conformance with ANSI A208.2-1994; and hardwood plywood with ANSI/HPVA HP-1-1994. These standards all specify lower formaldehyde emission levels.
  • Purchasing furniture or cabinets that contain a high percentage of panel surface and edges that are laminated or coated. Unlaminated or uncoated (raw) panels of pressed wood products will generally emit more formaldehyde than those that are laminated or coated.
  • Using alternative products such as wood panel products not made with urea-formaldehyde glues, lumber or metal.
  • Avoiding the use of foamed-in-place insulation containing formaldehyde, especially urea-formaldehyde foam insulation.
  • Washing durable-press fabrics before use.


How Do You Reduce Existing Formaldehyde Levels?

The choice of methods to reduce formaldehyde is unique to your situation. People who can help you select appropriate methods are your state or local health department, physician, or professional expert in indoor air problems. Here are some of the methods to reduce indoor levels of formaldehyde.

1. Bring large amounts of fresh air into the home. Increase ventilation by opening doors and windows and installing an exhaust fan(s).

2. Seal the surfaces of the formaldehyde-containing products that are not already laminated or coated. You may use a vapor barrier such as some paints, varnishes, or a layer of vinyl or polyurethane-like materials. Be sure to seal completely, with a material that does not itself contain formaldehyde. Many paints and coatings will emit other VOCs when curing, so be sure to ventilate the area well during and after treatment.

3. Remove from your home the product that is releasing formaldehyde in the indoor air. When other materials in the area such as carpets, gypsum boards, etc., have absorbed formaldehyde, these products may also start releasing it into the air. Overall levels of formaldehyde can be lower if you increase the ventilation over an extended period.

One method not recommended is a chemical treatment with strong ammonia (28-29% ammonia in water) which results in a temporary decrease in formaldehyde levels. Such treatment is strongly discouraged since ammonia in this strength is extremely dangerous to handle. Ammonia may damage the brass fittings of a natural gas system, adding a fire and explosion danger.


Plywood and composition board

Plywood is made by gluing thin sheets of wood together with either urea-formaldehyde glues (for indoor use) or phenol- formaldehyde glues (for outdoor use). Composition board, for example particle board, is made by gluing wood dust, chips, etc. together with urea-formaldehyde resins. The materials can emit unreacted formaldehyde for some years after manufacture, with composition board emitting more formaldehyde. In addition, heating these materials or machining them can cause decomposition of the glue to release formaldehyde. In the last few years, manufacturers of plywood and composition boards have tried to formulate them to reduce formaldehyde emissions. However, you often have to specify low formaldehyde plywood to ensure you get the proper product.



1. Formaldehyde is highly toxic by inhalation, highly toxic by eye contact and ingestion, and moderately toxic by skin contact. It is an irritant and strong sensitizer. Formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen. Even trace amounts of free formaldehyde may cause allergic reactions in people who are already sensitized to it.


2. Machining, sanding, or excessive heating of plywood or composition board can cause decomposition releasing formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide (in the case of amino resins) and phenol (in the case of phenol-formaldehyde resins).


1. Use low-formaldehyde products whenever possible. There are particle boards that are made without formaldehyde, but these are very expensive.


2. Do not store large amounts of plywood or composition board in the shop since it will emit formaldehyde. Instead store in a ventilated area where people do not work.


3. Dust collectors connected to woodworking machines should be exhausted to the outside since emitted formaldehyde will not be captured by dust collectors.


4. A gradual bakeout, in which temperatures are raised to about 90øF, and contaminated air exhausted to the outside, may accelerate formaldehyde emissions in already purchased particle board and plywood, therefore reducing the exposure.

Wood Preservatives and other treatments

Pesticides and preservatives are often applied to wood when it is being timbered, processed or shipped. Unfortunately, it is hard to find out what chemicals, if any, have been added. This is especially a problem with imported woods, since pesticides and wood preservatives banned in the
United States and Canada are often used in other countries. Pentachlorophenol and its salts, creosote, and chromated copper arsenate (CCA) have been banned for sale in the United Sates as wood preservatives because of their extreme hazards. They can, however, still be found in older woods and chromated copper arsenate is still allowed as a commercial treatment (e.g. "green" lumber, playground equipment, and other outdoor uses). It is supposed to be labeled. A variety of other chemicals can be used in treating wood including fire retardants, bleaches, etc.


1. Pentachlorophenol is highly toxic by all routes of entry. It can be absorbed through the skin, cause chloracne (a severe form of acne) and liver damage, and is a probable human carcinogen and reproductive toxin.

2. Chromated copper arsenate is extremely toxic by inhalation and ingestion, and highly toxic by skin contact. It is a known human carcinogen and teratogen. Skin contact can cause skin irritation and allergies, skin thickening and loss of skin pigmentation, ulceration, and skin cancer. Inhalation can cause respiratory irritation, and skin, lung and liver cancer. Inhalation or ingestion may cause digestive disturbances, liver damage, peripheral nervous system damage, and kidney and blood damage. Acute ingestion may be fatal.

3. Creosote has a tarry look, and is also used for outdoor wood. It is a strong skin and respiratory irritant, and is a probable human carcinogen and teratogen.  


4. Zinc and copper naphthenate are slight skin irritants; copper naphthenate is moderately toxic by ingestion. If suspended in solvents, the solvent would be the main hazard.


1. Obtain Material Safety Data Sheets on all chemicals being used in wood treatment. Treated wood itself does not have Material Safety Data Sheets, so you have to try and find out about any treatments from the supplier. In the
United States, CCA-treated wood is required to have a label and information on safe handling.

2. Do not handle woods that have been treated with pentachlorophenol or creosote. Avoid scrap or old woods of unknown origin.

3. Do not saw, sand or otherwise machine CCA-treated wood, if at all possible. If you do, use with local exhaust ventilation or wear a NIOSH-approved respirator with high efficiency (HEPA) filters.

4. If you add wood preservatives yourself, use zinc or copper naphthenates, if possible.


5. Do not burn wood that has been treated with creosote, pentachlorophenol or chromated copper arsenate.


Gluing wood

A variety of glues are used for laminating and joining wood. These include contact adhesives, casein glue, epoxy glues, formaldehyde-resin glues (e.g., formaldehyde-resorcinol), hide glues, and white glue (polyvinyl acetate emulsion), and the cyanoacrylate "instant" glues.


1. Epoxy glues are moderately toxic by skin and eye contact, and by inhalation. Amine hardeners (as well as other types of hardeners) can cause skin allergies and irritation in a high percentage of the people using them. Inhalation can cause asthma and other lung problems.

2. Cyanoacrylate glues: These are moderately toxic by skin or eye contact. They can glue the skin together or glue the skin and other materials together, sometimes requiring surgical separation. Eye contact can cause severe eye irritation. Their long term hazards are not well studied, especially with respect to inhalation.

3. Formaldehyde-resin glues: Resorcinol-formaldehyde and urea- formaldehyde glues are highly toxic by eye contact and by inhalation, and moderately toxic by skin contact. The formaldehyde can cause skin and respiratory irritation and allergies, and is a known human carcinogen. The resin components may also cause irritation. Even when cured, any unreacted formaldehyde may cause skin irritation and sanding may cause decomposition of the glue to release formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can be a problem when working with fiber-board and plywood.

4. Contact adhesives: Extremely flammable contact adhesives contain hexane, which is highly toxic by chronic inhalation, causing peripheral nerve damage. Other solvents in contact adhesives are mineral spirits or naphtha, and 1,1,1- trichloroethane (methyl chloroform), which are moderately toxic by skin contact, inhalation and ingestion.

5. Water-based glues: Water-based contact adhesives, casein glues, hide glues, white glue (polyvinyl acetate), and other water-based adhesives are slightly toxic by skin contact, and not significantly or only slightly toxic by inhalation or ingestion.

6. Dry casein glues: These are highly toxic by inhalation or ingestion, and moderately toxic by skin contact since they often contain large amounts of sodium fluoride and strong alkalis.


1. Avoid formaldehyde resin glues because of allergic reactions and the carcinogenicity of formaldehyde.

2. Use water-based glues rather then solvent-type glues whenever possible.

3. Wear gloves or barrier creams when using epoxy glues, solvent-based adhesives, or formaldehyde-resin glues.

4. Epoxy glues, cyanoacrylate glues, and solvent-based glues should be used with good dilution ventilation, for example, a window exhaust fan. Large amounts of these glues would need local exhaust ventilation.

5. When using solvent-based glues - particularly those with flammable solvents - do not smoke or allow open flames in the studio. Eliminate other sources of ignition in the room.


6. Wear gloves, goggles, and a NIOSH-approved toxic dust mask when mixing dry casein glues.




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