Last Revised: September 11, 2023
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong odor. It is often found in an aqueous form, usually in a 37% concentration. In solution formaldehyde can polymerize, therefore 6-13% of methanol is often added for stabilization. This solution is called formalin. Formaldehyde and formalin are used on campus as a preservative, germicide and disinfectant.
Formaldehyde exposure presents a health risk. Acute health effects include sensitization and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Long-term exposure to low levels can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde may cause cancer and may be toxic to organs.
Due to the health effects of formaldehyde, the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a chemical-specific formaldehyde regulation (29CFR1910.1048). The University has established a formaldehyde exposure control plan which includes exposure assessment and medical monitoring of employees with exposures that present a specific health risk requiring additional surveillance.
Anyone using formaldehyde, paraformaldehyde, formalin or other formaldehyde solutions should become familiar with the inherent risks of formaldehyde exposure and methods for controlling exposure. EHRS provides formaldehyde training and has specific fact sheets for the School of Veterinary Medicine gross anatomy lab and PSOM's anatomy labs. Use the links provided in left side bar to obtain more information. Perfusions of large animals outside of a fume hood will cause high exposures and work of this type should be reported to EHRS. Contact EHRS for additional information.