Exposure to formaldehyde in the workplace has previously been linked with leukaemia in medical studies. Groups of people were followed from December 1979 until December 1994 to see if they developed cancer and it was found that those who were exposed to formaldehyde occupationally had an increased risk of leukaemia and that this intensified with the level of exposure.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute extended the study until 2004 and followed 25,619 workers employed at one of ten different formaldehyde producing plants.
The results showed that there was a ‘statistically significant increase’ for all lymphohematopoietic malignancies and Hodgkin lymphoma. Statistically non-significant associations were found between formaldehyde exposure and multiple myeloma and myeloid leukaemia.
They concluded that:
‘Evaluation of risks over time suggests a possible link between formaldehyde exposure and lymphohematopoietic malignancies’, and ‘Observed patterns could be due to chance but are also consistent with a causal association.’
The study’s lead author, Dr. Laura Freeman, said “The overall patterns of risk seen in this extended follow-up of industrial workers, while not definitive, are consistent with a causal association between formaldehyde exposure and cancers of the blood and lymphatic system and warrant continued concern. Further studies are needed to evaluate risks of these cancers in other formaldehyde-exposed populations and to assess possible biological mechanisms.”
This is concerning because formaldehyde is used frequently in industry as a preservative and disinfectant. It is used in the making of plastics, laminate, plywood and paints and even photographic film, as well as cosmetics and medicinal products. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimated that nearly 2.1 million workers in the United States are exposed to formaldehyde every day.
Quick Facts about Formaldehyde:
1. Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen - International Agency for Research on Cancer (June 2004). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 88 (2006): Formaldehyde, 2-Butoxyethanol and 1-tert-Butoxypropan-2-ol. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol88/index.php.
2. Studies have shown that formaldehyde can cause nasal cancer, nasopharynx cancer, brain cancer and leukaemia - Hauptmann M, Lubin JH, Stewart PA, Hayes RB, Blair A. Mortality from lymphohematopoietic malignancies among workers in formaldehyde industries. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2003; 95(21):1615–1623.
3. Short term health effects of formaldehyde include skin irritation, coughing, wheezing, nausea and burning in the eyes, nose and throat.
Limit your exposure to formaldehyde!
Ensure that your workplace has sufficient health and safety regulations to protect you.
Consider changing your job – your life is more important than money.
If decorating your home, use environmentally-friendly paints and solid wood. Avoid plywood and plastics.
Check all your cosmetics and buy only natural cosmetics without formaldehyde.
Check any medicine or drug you are using to make an informed choice on whether you want a product that contains formaldehyde. Ask if there are any alternatives.
Sources: National Cancer Institute, JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2009 101(10):751-761; doi:10.1093/jnci/djp096.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/.
She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.