Formaldehyde sources:  Urea-formaldehyde (UF) resin in foam insulation (UFFI) or adhesives in interior particle board (flooring, cabinets), paneling, treated fabrics, etc.

  • Effects:  Upper respiratory (eyes, nose, throat) problems.
  • Control:  Remove or seal sources.  Reduce humidity.  Wash new fabrics.

Formaldehyde testing

To collect formaldehyde from the air, I bubble through impingers in 4 locations, all off the same pump to get flow rates the same, to most accurately compare different locations (as detected using chromotropic acid colorimetry).  Others may use sorbent tubes (for lab analysis using GC).

To test for emissions from flooring or other potential sources (mainly particle board), I always (in 800 homes so far) sample:

  1. outdoors (to exclude this unlikely source),
  2. breathing air in the room with the most potential sources (to see how much the humans are exposed to),
    … and also sample near potential sources (to see if higher levels point toward significant outgassing):
  3. near the main suspect source, like laminated flooring recently, under a big plastic sheet (a portable “chamber”), and
  4. near another suspect source, like inside a kitchen cabinet if particle board, or near the floor if carpeted over particle board underlayment.

I have never tested boards to meet emission standards, but I do check for formaldehyde released by both of these methods:

  1. extract into water (a 1 cc piece in 6 cc for 1 hr), and test an aliquot like for impingers, and
  2. digest with acid (a tiny 1 mm piece in 6 cc water), and test that water directly: add chromotropc acid, then sulfuric acid, to get either deep purple or just brownish.

Formaldehyde test results

The levels of formaldehyde in the breathing air are compared with:

  • typical homes (0.02 to 0.04 ppm) without urea-formaldehyde foam insulation or much particle board,
  • the indoor air quality guideline of 0.10 ppm, and
  • homes with much particle board (about 0.10 ppm) (like my Aunt Doris’s mobile home) with interior urea-formaldehyde adhesive, typically the greatest source of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde from laminate flooring

The formaldehyde level in the room air above some new flooring I tested was very low, but I saw that it was not laminated particle board, but more like solid wood: “strand” bamboo.  So I haven’t yet disproved the hypothesis that laminate is bad. I stick by my decades-old opinion that the finished surface stops outgassing enough to keep levels low.

I’m guessing I may never find high levels from laminate flooring, because the finished surface should be a good vapor barrier.  I’m trying to find a high level from laminate to disprove my hypothesis.

I believe that CARB specifies a test method designed for bare particle board, which means “destructive” testing by removing the protective top layer.  So failing the CARB test might not mean the installed flooring is horrible.  The “60 Minutes” story (CBS, 3/1/2015) did not mention air levels, which is what really matters to breathers.


Get more info from the US EPA.