Opinions and critical review on the formaldehyde profile.


  • Carlo Sala Editor in chief




Sources, Applications, History, Physical and Chemical Properties, Reactivity, Exposure and Risk Assessment, Guidelines


Formaldehyde has a simple chemical structure, and is one of the most reactive aldehydes.

It is an economically important chemical in the wordl. The most common use of formaldehyde is in the production of synthetic resins, that are used as adhesives in particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood. Formaldehyde is also used in textiles to mold plastic parts for automobiles, home appliances, hardware, garden equipment, and sporting equipment; to preserve dried food, fish, oils, and fats; to disinfect containers in the food industry; and, in agriculture, as a preservative,

fumigant, germicide, fungicide, and insecticide. [See Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens (26 Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the NTP 12th Report on Carcinogens)]. Formaldehyde has a complex hygienistyc profile due to high reactivity, to many possible sources both environmental and occupational, to the fact that formaldehyde is produced naturally in humans and other animals as an “essential metabolic intermediate in all cells and is produced endogenously from serine, glycine, ethionine, and choline, and from the demethylation of N-, O-, S-, methyl compoundsâ€.

IARC has reviewed formaldehyde several times, concluding with increasing step by step certainty that formaldehyde causes cancer in humans. In 1982, it was classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humansâ€; in 1987 and 1995 it was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humansâ€. In 2006, IARC “concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of formaldehyde in humansâ€. IARC again listed formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans in 2012.

Many critical opinions are reported.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Addendum to the Toxicological

Profile for Formaldehyde. Atlanta, GA, 2010.

American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygien­ists (ACGIH). 2017 Guide to Occupational Exposure Val­ues Compiled by ACGIH. Cincinnati, OH, USA.

Atkinson, R., Arey, J., 2003. Gas-phase tropospheric chemistry of biogenic volatile organic compounds: a review. Atmos. Environ., 37 (2), S197 - S219.

Bono R, Romanazzi V, Munnia A, Piro S, Allione A, Ricceri F, Guarrera S, Pignata C, Matullo G, Wang P, Giese RW, Peluso M. Malondialdehyde-deoxyguanosine adduct formation in workers of pathology wards: the role of air formaldehyde exposure. Chem Res Toxicol. 2010; 23(8):1342-8.

De Bruin Y, Koistinen K, Kephalopoulos S, Geiss O, Tirendi S, Kotzias D. Characterisation of urban inhalation exposures to benzene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the European Union: comparison of measured and modelled exposure data. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2008;15(5):417-30.

ECHA (2015) Biocidal Products Committee. Opinion on the application for approval of the active substance: Formaldehyde. ECHA/BPC/086/2015

ECHA (2017) Investigation Report – Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasers

European Commission (1989) Formaldehyde emission for wood based materials: Guideline for the determination of steady state concentrations in test chambers. Luxembourg, European Commission (EUR 12196 EN; Report No. 2 of the European concerted action: Indoor air quality and its impact on man, COST Project 613).

Fiocca, R., Marchetti, A., Massi, D., Truini, M., Zanin, T., 2016. Note relative all’utilizzo della formalina, ri-classificata “cancerogena†- Linee di indirizzo SIAPEC-IAP Divisione Italiana.

Hult, E.L. et al., 2015. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde exposure mitigation in US residences: In-home measurements of ventilation control and source control. Indoor Air 25.

International Programme on Chemical Safety. Environmental health criteria 89:

formaldehyde. Available at: http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc89.htm.

International Programme on Chemical Safety. Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 40. WHO 2002. ISBNÂ 92 4 153040 5Â Â Â Â Â

Ministero della Salute, Consiglio Superiore di Sanità , 2015. Linee Guida: Tracciabilità , Raccolta, Trasporto, Conservazione e Archiviazione di cellule e tessuti per indagini diagnostiche di Anatomia Patologica. http://www.salute.gov.it/imgs/C_17_pubblicazioni_2369_allegato.pdf

Monographs on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Humans, Formaldehyde, Volume 29, IARC, Lyon (1982)

Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Wood Dust and Formaldehyde, Volume 62, IARC, Lyon (1995)

Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Formaldehyde, 2-Butoxyethanol and 1-tert-Butoxypropan-2-ol.Volume 88, IARC, Lyon (2006)

Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans,. A Review of Human Carcinogens: Chemical Agents and Related Occupations Volume 100F. IARC, Lyon (2012)

Nielsen, G.D., Larsen, S.T., Wolkoff, P., 2017. Re-evaluation of the WHO (2010) formaldehyde indoor air quality guideline for cancer risk assessment. Arch. Toxicol., 91 (1), 35 - 61.

Regione Lombardia, Direzione Generale Welfare. Linea guida regionale sulla stima e gestione del rischio da esposizione a formaldeide: razionalizzazione del problema e proposta operativa. Decreto n. 11665 del 15/11/2016.

Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens 26 Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the NTP 12th Report on Carcinogens (2011).

Salthammer T. et al. Formaldehyde in the Indoor Environment. Chem. Rev. 2010, 110, 2536–2572

Svenberg J. A. et al. Endogenous versus Exogenous DNA Adducts: Their Role in Carcinogenesis, Epidemiology, and Risk Assessment Toxicological Sciences 120(S1), S130–S145 (2011)

Tretyakova, N., Villalta, P. W., and Kotapati, S. (2013) Mass spectrometry of structurally modified DNA. Chem. Rev. 113, 2395−2436

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). Toxicological review of formaldehyde -

Inhalation Assessment - External Review Draft. 2010. http://www.epa.gov/IRIS/.

WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality 2010. WHO, Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, Denmark, 103 - 156. ISBN 978 92 890 02134.







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