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Formaldehyde Fears: Summer Heat Creates Risk

06/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We've seen that formaldehyde, one of the more formidable indoor air pollutants, can be found in everything from your furniture to your flooring, and, while it's to be avoided at all times, it's even more important to be wary of it during the warm summer months. With summer just around the corner, learn how to minimize your risk.

First, though, a bit of background, courtesy of a trio of stories from National Public Radio (NPR) yesterday. We learn first-hand of some of the possible negative impacts of overexposure to formaldehyde; using the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers called into service on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina as an example, they uncover some of the negative impacts of too much formaldehyde in your home: increased sinus problems, including allergies, colds, and flus; asthma; and respiratory infections. The Huckabee family, spotlighted in one of the stories, lived in various trailers for over two years and blame the formaldehyde for the half-dozen hospital visits their children made over the same span. Yikes.

Though proper ventilation and low-VOC furniture finishes and paints (or make your own) can help minimize the presence of formaldehyde in your home, Thad Godish, an expert on indoor air quality at Ball State University, says, "I could go into any house and I can find a formaldehyde-releasing product," and adding that, "Formaldehyde is a potent irritant. It's going to irritate the eyes, nose and throat. And one of the things that formaldehyde also causes is fatigue. It just wipes you out. You feel tired all day long. You feel like you haven't gotten a good night's sleep, and maybe you didn't, because it also interferes with sleep."

And, as formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound, summer heat and humidity increase formaldehyde's release from the adhesives, glues and furnishings in your home into your home's air. So, as the mercury continues to rise, remember to give your home plenty of ventilation, and check your home's air filtration system to be sure it's clean and ready to help keep air pollutants down (plus, as a bonus, a clean air filter will save you some bucks this summer, too).

To learn more about the impacts of formaldehyde in the home, read the Huckabees' story, get the scoop on the history and chemistry of the chemical, and see what the Katrina trailer manufacturers think about all this.

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate

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