Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde chemical structure

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas often found in aqueous (water-based) solutions. Commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries, formaldehyde is also found in many products such as chemicals, particle board, household products, glues, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, fiberboard and plywood. It is also widely used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant.

 

Where is formaldehyde used at TWU?

Formaldehyde is used in the gross anatomy laboratories on the Houston and Dallas campuses, as well in some other laboratories on the Denton campus.

 

How can formaldehyde affect those exposed to it?

Formaldehyde is a sensitizing agent that may cause an immune system response upon initial exposure. Acute exposure can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and cause coughing and wheezing. Subsequent exposure may lead to severe allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Long-term exposure to low levels in the air or on the skin can cause asthma-like respiratory problems and skin irritation such as dermatitis and itching. It is also listed as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

 

What should I do if I begin to notice symptoms of formaldehyde exposure?

Please remove yourself from the lab and/or cease the activity involving formaldehyde. Faculty/staff members should contact their supervisors about reassigning lab duties to other faculty/staff members until their health issues have been resolved. Students should contact their faculty members.

 

Is acute formaldehyde exposure unusual?

High formaldehyde levels are a common issue for gross anatomy laboratories at universities across the nation. TWU’s Office of Risk Management began testing formaldehyde vapor levels in the gross anatomy labs in 2017 in an effort to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations on appropriate vapor levels. More information on formaldehyde can be found on this OSHA formaldehyde fact sheet.

 

How is TWU handling formaldehyde exposure levels in gross anatomy labs?

TWU’s Department of Risk Management, the School of Physical Therapy and Office of the Dean of the College of Health Sciences have identified and begun to implement solutions to reduce formaldehyde exposures in the gross anatomy labs, both in the short and long term. This includes the use of Infutrace, a formaldehyde and phenol vapor-reducing agent that has been used very successfully at other universities.

 

How is TWU handling formaldehyde exposure levels in other labs?

TWU’s Department of Risk Management conducts regular lab inspections including chemical inventory and use. Risk Management will conduct air testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals as deemed appropriate based on these inspections, and whenever lab users report experiencing symptoms of chemical exposure.